Before I start, let me make abundantly clear that I have not read the source material on which this film is based. I’ve been meaning to, but I haven’t, okay? Good. Right, so World War Z, according to the trailers, is about hordes of zombies clambering over each other to eat some people and send humanity writhing away in a corner stinking of fear for its own survival. It is kind of about that, but what the trailers and TV spots don’t show you is that it’s also about more than that, much more.
Sourcing inventive originality in a zombie film is like drawing blood from a stone. It’s difficult and unrewarding. The awful trailers together with the fact that Marc ‘Quantum of Solace’ Forster was the films director, meant that optimism was at a premium going in to the screening. What a slap in the face I then received. World War Z gets going in an instant, following a necessary (if slightly twee) establishing breakfast scene in which Gerry (Brad Pitt) and his family are introduced. Post-breakfast, shit goes down and there’s a zombie outbreak, with the family taking refuge in an apartment block in wait of a pickup at sunrise. The frenzy of the outbreak is captured superbly and is triumphantly centred on the human elements of such an event. One example comes with the looting of a supermarket, as a policeman runs straight past Gerry (who has just killed a man) in order to collect a stash of baby food. It sounds corny, it kinda is, but it really forces the ‘what would you do?’ element that is lacking in many a zombie flick.
In this respect, the film keeps on giving. Global issues are addressed, such as our planet’s overpopulation and the effects of colonial imperialism. If there weren’t so many of us, there wouldn’t be as many zombies. The family’s security is threatened by the fact that there is no more room on the aircraft carrier. Who is really to blame? The film offers a frankly sobering variety of subtexts that hint at a wealth of depth for those searching for it. Moral conflicts are set up frequently and really push the story along, something that is aided bu the fact that technically, the film ticks all the right boxes. Pacing is consistent and well managed, whilst the direction when it all does go chaotic is handled with aplomb. Speaking of chaotic, the zombies here are just that. Despite being mainly CGI, the physicality of them as they smash into doors, fly around corners too fast (often slipping over, nice touch) and generally wreak havoc. The way they’re animated is, again, very humanistic and complimentary to the themes and story of the film.
The real joy of World War Z is in the breadth of its themes. It doesn’t shove any overt political messages down your throat and it doesn’t need to. What makes it work is all in the quiet moments of breath before the storm hits, such as the doctor’s monologue about mother nature being a serial killer, or Brad Pitt’s scene locked in a vault of disease samples. Compromise is something that features heavily throughout, largely through the main character of Gerry compromising his own welfare for the sake of his family, but also through the lengths that humanity will go through in order to survive and adapt. Humanism is perhaps World War Z’s greatest strength as it manages to convey so much heart and soul into what is essentially two hours of zombie madness.
By adopting and utilising the thematic assets laid down in the original book, the filmmakers have managed to create a film that hits just as hard in the head as it does on screen. The brutality showcased isn’t necessarily intended to hold a mirror up to society, but what if it does? Hordes of mindless, violent creatures descending on cities with no clear objective doesn’t sound too far off from those riots we had two years ago. That’s where World War Z triumphs because an analogy like that can either have you nodding in agreement or thinking that this reviewer has gone a little bit too far. Like the cause of the zombie outbreak, World War Z’s aim isn’t particularly clear, but this ambiguity only serves to enhance the potential for political, social and cultural meanings to be derived from the film. It’s all there, it just depends what you’re looking for.
9/10 (Would be 10 if Brad Pitt’s daughter hadn’t ran during an asthma attack.)