For whatever reason there seems to be a problem with making a zombie film on a grand blockbuster scale. Looking at all the greatest zombie movies from the past, from George Romero’s defining Dead series to more recent examples like 28 Days Later, the genre seems to lend itself to lower budgets and independent cinema. So it’s no surprise that World War Z had a troubled production, with costly reshoots seeing the budget apparently balloon to as much as $400m, making any kind of financial success a tough ask.
WWZ is good enough that it deserves to find an audience, but given the competition at this time of year and the industry rumblings about the troubled production, it seems unlikely that it will make much of an impact, even with Paramount and leading man Brad Pitt launching one of the biggest marketing campaigns of the year.
Loosely adapted from Max Brooks’ epistolary anthology novel, WWZ follows Gerry Lane, a former UN peacekeeping specialist of some description, called back in to action to fight a global zombie outbreak in the interests of protecting his family. In the spirit of the source material, Gerry globe trots from Philadelphia to South Korea, Jerusalem and Wales in his hunt for a cure while his wife and two daughters powerlessly await his return aboard a US naval vessel established as a temporary government stronghold somewhere in the Atlantic.
While it’s not ultimately the most original or satisfying take on the material WWZ does get a lot of important things right. There are some tense moments early on as the chaos of the outbreak unfolds, and some fresh ideas are employed to fight the zombie hordes, even if some of the decisions made by Pitt and others seem a little daft. The zombies themselves are absolutely the film’s strong point, one of the most memorable and interesting examples I’ve seen in quite some time. Rather than being portrayed as infected individuals, the masses of undead essentially become the disease, and the visuals of huge waves of infected flowing through alleyways and scaling buildings is unnerving and effective. It’s a very clever use of an arguably overused monster, and the film even gets around the slow zombie vs fast zombie debate pretty successfully.
Sadly, where WWZ falls short is almost certainly where things were changed between the initial script and finished product. There are ideas in the film that feel unfinished and underdeveloped, particularly in the Jerusalem sequence and most of what follows, but there are tell tale signs right from the beginning (for example, Matthew Fox is far too big a star to have just one line in the film). What WWZ is missing when compared to other zombie films is any kind of implied social commentary, however setting part of the film inside the walls of Jerusalem is the kind of bold move that cries out for an allegorical bent, particularly considering what happens at the end of the sequence. The ripe territory is left almost completely unexplored however, simply ending with another zombie rout.
Allegedly accurate breakdowns of the original, very dark script are out there (you can read a good one here), and while WWZ works for the most part, it would have been nice to see the filmmakers take a few more risks and not retreat to the safety of a more crowd-pleasing conclusion.