World War ZWednesday 19 Jun 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Ludi Boeken, Ruth Negga, Peter Capaldi
Duration: 116 minutes
Zombies, lots of ‘em, are on the loose again in this blockbuster starring Brad Pitt. It aims for apocalyptic terror but ends up confused and rather silly.
Something inside me died while watching this big-budget zombie flick from Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster. My skin turned mottled in the half-light of the cinema and my bloodshot eyes protruded awfully from their sockets but I could still make out what was happening on the screen. Yes, I had been rendered undead while watching Brad Pitt battling flesh-eating sub humans in a zombie movie that takes itself very seriously indeed.
Based on the celebrated book by Max Brooks, in WWZ Pitt plays Gerry Lane a former UN specialist who is caught up in the whole zombie apocalypse with his wife and two young daughters. In true disaster movie tradition, we meet the family at the breakfast table (naturally in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love). The blueberry pancakes stack up and the coffee is good and, again in true disaster movie cliché, the TV murmurs away unnoticed in the background until something of grave portent interrupts the morning ritual. “Daddy, what’s martial law?” pipes up one of the cutie children and we’re off!
Zombies are overrunning the planet at alarming speed and after the now customary scenes of motorway madness and panic-stricken grid-lock, Gerry and family are transported to a aircraft carrier. A top-ranking US General doesn’t quite say, “He’s the best in the business” but Gerry is, indeed, the only man who can handle a humanitarian disaster of this level: “The President is dead” is said in passing at one point and of course this is shorthand for just how bad things really are.
Gerry is sent on a mission to locate Patient Zero, the first person to be infected with the Z virus, with a Navy SEAL team and what follows is lots and lots of landing and taking off from aircraft carriers, boarding military aircraft, and racing around the world to places like Jerusalem, where there is some semi-offensive nonsense about how Israel has survived the zombie plague, South Korea, Nova Scotia, Newark, and Cardiff. Yes, Cardiff. In Wales. A fine place but this is where WWZ really does lose the run of itself as Pitt is forced to save the world in a WHO laboratory in a dull final act that wouldn’t make an episode of The Walking Dead.
In this context, the action set pieces feel tacked on. There is one impressive scene in Jerusalem when the place is overrun by thousands of zombies who scale the walls of the old city by organising themselves into an inhuman pyramid but you soon see the joins in the CGI as the bodies flail. A tense stand-off in a commercial airliner has echoes of Paul Greengrass’ United 93 but ends with the kind of preposterousness that eventually overwhelms WWZ.
Tales of pre and post-production re-writes and those seven weeks of re-shoots are clearly visible on screen as the movie chugs along in fits and starts before a botched and rushed-looking ending. There are scenes of the mass slaughter of thousands upon thousands of zombies. At one point, in true dictatorship style, thousands of zombs are corralled into a football stadium and liquidated. Thousands of others are incinerated by flame throwers, more are despatched with machine-like efficiency.
There is something quite deadening and depressing about all of this and there are no real questions asked. Why did this happen? Are we are doing so much damage to the planet, that Gaia is finally fighting back. Are we the disease?
Then again, there isn’t much time for existential philosophising when the super-fast and super-strong zombie massive are battering down your door.
A least when we hit Wales, we do get performances from Peter Calpaldi and Ruth Negga as lab boffins but even they are reduced to stumbling about trying to make sense of a script that is as directionless and listless as the zombie scourge.
Of course, the solution to the whole damn flesh- eating mess is staring them right in the face the whole time – just get Capaldi to turn into Malcolm Tucker, the volcanic spin doctor he played in The Thick of It, and let him lose on the hordes of undead.