There were a few reasons to be nervy about World War Z, the latest in the back-in-vogue zombie gorefest genre that’s rapidly replaced vampires as the undead underlings of choice.
Director Marc Forster has been keeping a relatively low profile since helming the monumental Bond clunker that was Quantum of Solace. Lost, Star Trek and Prometheus scribe Damian Lindelof was brought in to re-write the final act, when producer and star Brad Pitt wasn’t happy with the ending. Expensive re-shoots and the wholesale abandoning of a mammoth final battle staged in Moscow had many worrying this one would never rise from the dead.
And yet it does, with barely a breath before we’re plunged into visceral, horrifying action that’s sustained throughout the majority of this little firecracker.
Pitt plays former UN inspector Gerry Lane, who’s used to working in war zones. Just as he’s settling into early retirement and familial bliss with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters, all hell breaks loose in Philadelphia as the super-fast, super-powered zombies are unleashed. Unexplained, there’s barely a 10-second window from the infected chomping on some poor sucker before they’re converted too.
The Glaswegian in me got a thrill at how obvious it is these shots were actually filmed in Scotland’s largest city. And the outbreak certainly is thrilling, immediately hurling the viewer into mass pandemonium. These scenes might not be the most original, but in terms of sheer scale and pace, they grab you by the jugular and promptly rip it out.
After escaping to New York, Gerry and family are whisked off to a naval carrier somewhere off the coast of the US, and that’s where they are promptly dumped for the remainder of the movie while Brad goes on a globe-hopping tour, hunting for patient zero and a cure.
This takes him to a terrifyingly taught assault on a rain-drenched army camp in South Korea before heading to an awe-inspiring siege of Jerusalem and then, finally, sleepy old Wales via one of the best plane crashes in cinema, thanks in no small part to the excellent use of 3D throughout. Forget snakes. Zombies are where it’s at.
There are enough red herrings, shocks and zombie violence to keep the audience on its toes, though the gore has been dialed down to secure a PG rating, in a somewhat questionable move. Especially when body parts start flying after grenades are tossed.
The speed of the ‘zekes,’ as they’re known in WWZ, more closely resembles the monsters of 28 Days Later than the Romero classics, and they are bloody scary. There’s even a fab little Silence of the Lambs homage with one particularly toothsome chap.
Along the way we never spend a great deal of time with other survivors, including a dorky doc, gung ho US Marines and a female Israeli soldier, but we get just enough to give a damn about whether they live or die. And most of them do die. This is a zombie flick, after all. Watch out for cameos from Lost’s hunky Matthew Fox and The Thick Of It’s eternally swearing Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi).
The final five minutes does get a little too Hollywood, as mandated by Pitt, who threw out the original finale, but the thrill of the chase is well worth getting there.
Stephen A Russell