Review: World War Z


World War Z had a troubled production. After the rights for the books were procured by Brad Pitts production company almost everything went wrong. The film had multiple scripts that were written and rewritten. Once shooting started it was plagued (pun intended) with delays. Even after shooting finished the film still wasn’t on track as the entire ending had to be completely reworked after the one it had failed miserably with test audiences.

Then the trailers came and they looked even more lackluster, with fans of the book shouting foul that the film featured little of the social commentary featured in the novel. Those who hadn’t read the book were still non-plussed as the trailers showed strange, ant-like zombies that seemed more a mushy mash of dots than anything threatening. The movie seemed destine to fail in every way possible.

Thanks to that fact World War Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer.  

World War Z
Director: Marc Forster
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: June 21, 2013 

I have not read the books, but I’m informed that this film is nothing like them. The books address a lot of social issues that the film chooses to glaze over in favor of zombie attack sequences. Readers of the book could definitely come away from this film disappointed. However, if you haven’t read the books your expectations will most likely be easily met as the film is tense, surprisingly dramatic and impressively paced all the way up to the rewritten third act.

The first act of the film concerns Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family’s attempt to get to safety after the “zombie” apocalypse occurs. Gerry is a ex-UN investigator and total badass so in the second act he is tasked by the remaining powers-that-be to find a cure for the infection that is causing people to run around chewing on each other. These two first acts are truly tense and interesting, flinging Gerry into some impressive zombie invasions that could hold their own with the best of zombie/infected movies. The third act is less impressive, with a clearly tacked on feel that gets even worse as the plot holes add up because the ending was developed in a rush. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it will be interesting to see the original ending once the Blu-ray lands.

A big part of the problem is that the first two-thirds of the film feel truly massive in scale. While zombie apocalypses have been done to death, World War Z feels very large and impressive in its approach to the events. The film grows in scope through these acts as Gerry travels the world looking for help. Then suddenly in the third act the film becomes very microcosmic, focusing on just a small group of people in a situation that reeks of cliche. Instead of a look at how the world reacts to the infection the film reverts back to the standard zombie movie fare of a small band of people hoping to survive (in order to save the world).  It’s unfortunate as much of the action before it is stellar and Marc Forster clearly took the beating he received over his action direction in Quantum of Solace to heart as he pastes the scenes together to create a tension often hard to find in zombie films. 

Don’t be fooled by the lackluster showing of the zombies in the trailers either. These infected are actually quite well done. They sort of recklessly throw themselves at the nearest living human and it makes for some great sequences where infected are simply running or jumping or climbing or falling without a care for their bodies. It is actually a pretty original take on the fast zombie. More importantly, those horrible shots of zombie ants you saw in the trailers don’t look like that on the big screen. It is one of those things that actually looks good when you see it on a massive movie screen, but shrunken down is laughable. 

What is unfortunately laughable, big or small screen, is that the movie went for a PG-13 when it really should be R-rated. There is a ton of violence in the movie, but it all happens off screen. Sometimes doing something violent off screen can be best as you leave it up to the viewers imagination, but in this case it is almost ridiculous. The impact, scars and emotion of many scenes are slightly neutered by the film cutting away just when things would get interesting. In fact there is hardly any blood at all despite a plethora of zombie attacks, multiple bite wounds, headshots galore and the chopping off of one character’s hand. It’s acceptable in the beginning, but by the end of the movie the cutaways are so obvious that they actually take you out of the experience.

Still, the overall experience is an enjoyable one even if it misses out on its chance to be really great by a few splashes of blood here and there. Pitt is characteristically strong in his role, and the screenplay actually holds up until the rewritten third act, which, to be fair, actually has some decent qualities as well. The family story line is a strong point as well until it’s relatively abandoned at the end of the film. For the amount of build up they give Gerry’s family the payoff at the end seems almost trite. Once again, greatness missed by a few poor decisions.

Most of the time not sucking isn’t something a movie should be praised for, but in the case of World War Z it is probably warranted. So much went wrong with the making of this film that it not being a complete waste of space is truly impressive. Yes, the third act starts to teeter the entire thing in an unfortunate direction, but Forster keeps it alive just enough to still be enjoyable despite being banal. It isn’t the zombie movie to end all zombie movies, but it is possible it could have been.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.