Review: World War Z by John Stringer

Review: World War Z by (

As a selective zombie genre fan (Zombieland, Legend, 28 Days/Weeks, The Walking Dead) I vote this a good addition to the zombie film cultus; how appropriate to have a lead actor named Pitt front a zombie film.

World War Z (for Zombie) is based on “World War Z” the 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks which was a follow-up to his 2003 book, The Zombie Survival Guide. However, the movie bears little relation to the Brooks’ book.

Brad Pitt (Gerry Lane) is a retired UN operative (last mission Liberia). The world starts goin’ crazy, fast (ie when a wing-mirror gets smashed off by a cop, you know your day’s goin’ downhill when that happens) with a rapid-spreading, 11-second-infecting rabies type virus afoot (or no foot, as the case may be). Most cities of the world are over-run and these zombies move fast. Gerry and his family only just make it to a military flotilla out at sea, safe from zombies, where a US official (Fana Mokoena) is running things after everyone else in Washington has got their teeth in to something else and “turned.”

Gerry heads off with a special Ops team in exchange for his family’s place on one of the ships, to try and track down the original source at possible locations around the world. They want to understand how and why the infection is spreading. Don’t get bit.

This is essentially the very successful British 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007, starring Robert Carlyle, one of the best actors around) zombie romps redone, which introduced sprinting zombies. Z borrows heavily from both movies.

We have the clichéd Mummy and Daddy separated and kids caught in between issues, seen in Legend, Walking Dead, 28 Days and War of the Worlds, now a required plot staple of these movies (is zombie-ness a meat-aphor for separation?) and perhaps most poignantly addressed in the seven minute Australian zombie movie Cargo (appropriately directed by Ben Howling another great genre surname).

The drama and special effects of Z are fantastic. There are also some riveting scenes (like when zombies attack on a plane; and the attack on Jerusalem). Others I really enjoyed:

the over-running of several mega cities is dramatic and poignant political commentary under the zombie veneer.
The desperation on the Belarus airplane after they think they’ve escaped but find a zombie in the toilet, and how that plays out. No spoiler.
Pitt instantly chopping off the female Israeli soldier’s hand (Segen) to save her from “turning” a partnership begun but not really developed in the movie. I suspect the script had a betrayal and conflicted love story in it that got edited out.
The Laboratory lab technician zombie on the other side of the glass door from Pitt for hours on end, with his teeth-chattering Hannibal Lector impersonation.
A zombie going nuts in a plane seat still strapped in, after crashing.
The turbulence caused to the Belarus airplane from a nuclear detonation we glimpse out the port side window.
I also like how Pitt wraps Vanity-Fair or Vogue magazines around his limbs to protect himself (will zombies be put off?) a kind of parody on himself and the paparazzi.
This movie also gives us the most frightening zombie I’ve seen yet, a black female lab technician with dreads, locked in a glass lab. Awesomely disturbing.

If you didn’t catch it, the scene where Pitt and his family are trying to flee from the rooftop by helicopter and Pitt suddenly runs over to the edge of the building, and counts to 11. He thinks he’s been bitten and counts to 11 to see if he turns. If so, he’ll fall off and save his family from himself.

I would not watch this in 3D, it was fine in 2D, but one NZ critic found the action in 3D exhausting. That is sometimes my experience too; you can have too much clarity, like drinking too much champagne.

Mum is freckle red head Mireille Enos (incidentally a Mormon); the ubiquitous black man in charge is Fana Mokoena; and Z also stars British actor Peter Capaldi known to Commonwealth audiences from the Dr WHO Torchwood TV franchise (incidentally playing a Dr here of the W.H.O Research Centre).

There is plenty of modern politics woven in here too:
1. Israel catches on quickest that the zombie outbreak is happening (in India) using its “tenth man paradigm” and closes its walls and thus protects itself, or does it? So, some subtleties there about walls, Jews, immigration and how Israel is besieged.

2. North Korea controls its outbreak when all 23 million act as one, and smash each other’s teeth out so there is less biting. Gummed to Death in North Korea might be a sequel. It adds a new dimension to Gangnam.

3. Working with Belarussian airways.

This is apocalypse on steroids. It is gripping racy drama, and I loved the tension all the way with the same pressure applied in different contexts (a supermarket, dark apartment hallways, a crowded city, in a research centre -vestiges of Alien II there).

Pitt is great, restrained acting and good presence, but the narration at the end is a bit of a hokey anti-climax. The discovery of how to deal with the zombie threat is somewhat implausible (well, this is an Undead movie I suppose) and frankly, wifey and kids were redundant other than as inconvenient satellite phone callers (you’ll see). Why too, do only our two protagonists survive the mega plane crash. Luck? Pitt’s good looks?

A great addition to the genre, and really worth a watch – I enjoyed it immensely, especially the Jerusalem scenes – but it’s not deep (just enjoy, you don’t read Shakespeare on a roller coaster after all).

One point behind the grittier British 28 Weeks Later with its relentless opening scene, 7/10.

~ John Stringer.

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