Forget the one big thing you know about zombies because World War Z shakes it up. Out go the shuffling slowcoaches we might expect, instead these undead are stealthy and far harder to avoid which gives the film an urgency other similar ones cannot compete with. There is so little time for people to defend themselves that it creates an urgency that pulls the film way above expectations. A brilliantly realised opening set up and the movie’s globetrotting also means that World War Z seems far less repetitive than it actually is and the results are edge of the seat absorbing though if you’re looking for characterisation you might not be able to tell the living from the zombies!
Director Marc Foster stages one of the best transformations from the ordinary to the extraordinary seen in a long while. A Philadelphia family are on the school run when they find themselves in a traffic jam which soon builds to a panic outside which then becomes chaotic. The way this is done creates a believability that prepares you for the revelation of a plague that turns people almost instantly (12 seconds in fact) into howling hungry zombies. The cameras pick out individuals some of whom make thrilling escapes, some of whom are transformed. It’s a stand out sequence that the Foster never quite manages to subsequently match though there are plenty of excellent ones to come.
It turns out that the family is not quite ordinary. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) has form in dealing with dangerous scenarios and the UN calls him in from his self -imposed retirement from risk to go to South Korea to try and find out how the zombie outbreak started. Even before they are rescued there is a terrifying night spent in a city full of anarchy and danger. Pitt is just about convincing in a role that doesn’t really require him to reveal his inner thoughts though Mireille Enos is terrific as his left behind wife and it’s a shame she doesn’t get more to do than stare worriedly at either her phone or kids.
The narrative continually pulls the rug from under the feet of the protagonists keeping matters lively. Each time a character seems to make a breakthrough either they then die in horrific circumstances or the story moves on while Lane‘s options become increasingly closed off as the threat magnifies. While this does keep matters exciting and un-predictable it also means we barely get to know anyone.
There are several more memorable moments especially a sequence in Jerusalem when zombies are trying to scale a wall and a superbly staged episode on a plane. Foster continues to try inventive angles and makes his zombies more frightening than most. They act more like animals with a noise similar to those Jurassic Park raptors and a couple of clever attributes that assist the drive of the film.
After the US, Korea and Israel, the fact that the action eventually pares down to the unlikely environs of suburban Cardiff is a little odd as if the scale of the story is being deliberately taken down to a key scene that is literally Lane and one zombie. The shiny labs in which the last 20 minutes take place do drain some of the tension away with the action starting to resemble a video game rather than the epic it has thus far been. It does add a little more characterisation to proceedings but somehow feels like it’s taking us too far away from the main action.
Overall World War Z keeps your attention via a series of dramatic set pieces and a confidence that makes even the most implausible scenario seem possible.