Loosely based on Max Brooks novel of the same name, World War Z follows the story of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former United Nations investigator, as he tries to discover the origins of a disease which has ravaged mankind, leaving swathes of zombies in its wake.
Gerry lived a seemingly idyllic family life before the outbreak, with his wife Karin (the excellent Mireille Enos, Sarah Linden in the American version of The Killing) and daughters Rachel and Constance, summed up in one quick early scene of them making breakfast before heading out for the day.
However, once they are in the car and have reached the big city, things take a turn for the, well, zombie apocalypse. From here on out life as the Lane’s know it reaches an end as they battle to escape the city. Luckily, thanks to Gerry’s former occupation, he is recalled to work and finds he and his family being transported to an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, and from there is transported all over the world trying to track the origin of the disease, while his wife and children stay behind.
Having a lead family is quite a neat way to deal with trying to bring together what in the book is a complex and sprawling narrative, (the book is a series of oral histories of survivors after the outbreak) and adds a consistent human face to the story of the fight to save humanity. However, it also has it’s limitations, and the characters never really feel fully formed. Gerry’s wife seems to have no clue how serious her husband’s job is, and ends up putting him and some colleagues in mortal peril when she decides to phone him at an inopportune moment. Gerry then decides not to mention this fact, which seems odd given the gravity of the situation, seemingly choosing to keep things stable in case he is having his last phone conversation with her. Their relationship just never quite rings true, with Karin seeming to be insecure and over-protective before the outbreak with no real change in dynamic later in the film. Some of the human elements also take up valuable time during which we could be exploring some of the novel’s more interesting stories. What happened to the Paris catacombs for example? Maybe that is being saved for the sequel.
What does work well is the action. The zombie horde are terrifying. No shambling, moaning Romero zombies here (sorry George, I love you, but I can run), instead we are in 28 Days Later territory. The disease spreads in seconds, a fact which is neatly illustrated early on in a scene using one of the girls counting toys, and is ferocious when it hits. Zombies will run at Usain Bolt-pace, smash through windscreens, throw themselves off the roof of a building, anything to transmit the disease. Marc Forster does a good job of keeping the frenetic pace watchable and every early scene adds to the sense of dread. The scenes in the rain and darkness in South Korea are bleak and frightening, but it is the seeming calm of Gerry’s time in Jerusalem that brings the biggest scare, showing how quickly situations can change if not managed properly.
While it does feel patchy, and the final scenes do feel somewhat of a let-down after the wide-ranging earlier globe-trotting, it is a solid and distinctly intellectual addition to the zombie film genre.
3 out of 5