Review: World War Z by John Stringer

June 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Kokila Patel

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 clichΓ©d 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.

18 Responses to “Review: World War Z by John Stringer”

  1. anonymouse (891 comments) says:

    I suspect the script had a betrayal and conflicted love story in it that got edited out.

    Given the production hell this film went through, re-write, re-re-writes, additionally filming, even more additional filming, it is probably safer to say that most things in the final version actually were edited *in*

    Heck they even gave JMS his writing credit back due to the final version on the screen resembling what he had originally written (which was originally dumped after”going in another direction” and taking his credit out)

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  2. KiwiGreg (3,589 comments) says:

    If you like the genre, try Juan of the Dead, part of the very small genre of Cuban zombie movies. I thoroughly enjoyed it, moreso now I have been to Cuba.

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  3. AG (1,949 comments) says:

    Spoilers! Spoilers! Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and care about having some of the plot given away.

    I saw it, too. An enjoyable just-under-2 hour escape from reality, which avoided the need to out-explode other blockbusters and kept the thrills/scares fairly immediate. So I was happy to watch it … but still, there’s some things that just annoy the heck out of me:

    1: If the “rabies virus” (or whatever it is) only takes 11 seconds to turn people into “Zombies”, how exactly does it manage to spread to the major cities of every country in the world at about the same time? There is vague mention of how planes act as a perfect vector for the spread … but seeing as even if an infected person managed to get on board a plane about to take off, the passengers would become crazed, flesh hungry monsters within about 2 minutes, why are all these planes still flying around the globe and dumping infected people in new places?

    2: Getting the “rabies virus” appears to override all known impediments to biological existence – we are told that “body shots” don’t stop “Zombies”, they fall off big buildings and bounce straight back up, and we even have a scene where a “Zombie” corpse has been burnt to a cinder, yet the fingers still twitch. This is annoying – viruses don’t enable nerves to continue operating after the circulatory system shuts down, much less after the body has been incinerated!.

    3: Related … why exactly would the “Zombies” care if humans have some disease when choosing who to infect? Apparently the “rabies virus” that they carry overrides any other biological agent in the host – we’re told you can’t kill a “Zombie” by giving it (say) Typhus or SARS, so why does having Typhus or SARS stop a “Zombie” biting you?

    4: Not only were Brad and one-handed Israeli soldier (whom he is dragging around on his adventures … why, exactly?) the only ones to survive the plane crash, but the plane seemed to conveniently come down close enough to the WHO lab they were trying to get to that two badly injured people could limp their way to it. Oh – and they managed to find it … how? I’m assuming Google Maps doesn’t survive the apocalypse?

    5: Then there’s the case of the magically recharging satellite phone – battery gives out on the plane, only to somehow come back to life in the lab. And where is that lab getting its power from, anyway?

    6. The “Zombies” are attracted to noise. So, why doesn’t someone just fly a helicopter low and slow over their heads blasting Wagner out of loudspeakers, lead the “Zombies” into a big open area (a la the pied piper of Hamelin) … whereupon a thermobaric weapon is dropped on their heads? Repeat as often as is needed and problem solved.

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  4. Colville (3,126 comments) says:

    AG… you are wayyy over thinking it!

    Saw it yesterday..enjoyed…last 10 minutes was a letdown but well worth a watch overall. I did 3D unsure if it was value or not.

    John Stringer… one point less than 28 weeks later…2 points behind 28 days later…. ?

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  5. Fentex (3,332 comments) says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, only it’s trailers, and my impression from them is it’s obviously far removed from the book which I recommend to people.

    I bought it thinking it was likely to be a bit tongue in cheek but it turned out to be genuinely scary.

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  6. jims_whare (497 comments) says:

    The action was good but the plot was lacking, disjointed, and fairly implausible. Also zombie movies are getting a bit old now.

    I’d give it 5 out of 10.

    Good Action – non stop really

    Jumping from New York to South Korea, to Israel, to Wales with very little tying each segment together.

    The Israel scene where supposedly the Israeli’s intercepted an odd radio message out of India and decided to build a multi billion $$ wall around their country. (How they could do this when the zombie disease took out the whole world in a matter of days I don’t know)

    And then once they became a safe haven Israel got taken out because some women sang too loudly?

    Also the plot: Supposedly the zombies got excited by sound so why not invent a modern pied piper who could lead them all into the sea to drown?

    As for the solution – injected with some deadly virus to prevent further contamination is fairly implausible as well.

    If I wasn’t mistaken I would say it was just another propaganda movie for an enhanced United Nations as being the saviour of the world.

    Similar in vain to Tom Cruise’s perennial efforts at pushing Scientology via the big screen.

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  7. YesWeDid (1,085 comments) says:

    To answer AG:

    1. The virus originally took longer to turn people and most countries hid the virus from the general population, this allowed the virus to spread.

    2. It’s a zombie movie.

    3. It’s a plot device.

    4. The Israeli soldier was female and yes it was convenient that they found the lab quickly but it would have been really boring if they spent an hour of the movie wondering around the Welsh country side.

    5. He probably had a spare battery or managed to recharge it, the lab would probably have generators although Wales has hydro power which could run for months unattended. At least he used a satellite phone and not a regular cell phone.

    6. The book is based on the idea that humans are quickly over run and later manage to regroup and fight back.

    My biggest plot hole was the C130 Hercules taking off from the aircraft carrier but apparently this is possible and has been done!

    @Jim_whare: Given that Kiwiblog isn’t known for its support of the UN I’m surprised it took until the 6th comment before someone pointed out that the UN are the good guys in this movie. Your piped piper suggestion wouldn’t work as the zombies float or can survive underwater as they can’t drown.

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  8. Colville (3,126 comments) says:

    Re the C130 herc. Would have been much better if they used a confiscated lear jet of Don Trump after pushing him over the side. πŸ™‚

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  9. hmmokrightitis (1,919 comments) says:

    Collective wisdom sought: Going away for boys weekend with my lads in tow this weekend, reasonably sophisticated and worldly 12 and 11 year old. Both watched Zombieland with me and loved it. Would they deal with this OK too? Thoughts?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

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  10. AG (1,949 comments) says:


    1. How awfully … convenient … that the virus mutated in exactly the same way at all points of the globe at almost exactly the same time.

    2. That’s not a satisfactory answer. You can have undead zombies that don’t obey biological rules because they are undead (Dawn of the Dead, etc) … but that leaves you with the whole “how and why did the dead come back to life?” issue to skate around. Or you can have “zombies” that are actually infected humans (like 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later), which gives you a causal explanation for the phenomenon but also requires that if you shoot them, they die just like people do. What you can’t have is “zombies” that play by undead zombie rules – or, at least, you can’t without earning an exasperated “that makes no sense!” from the audience. (Incidentally, this is a beef I have with The Walking Dead, too: apparently everyone carries within them whatever it is that makes the dead become “the Dead” … so why is it that when a walker bites someone, they turn? What exactly does a walker’s bite transmit that isn’t already present in the victim?)

    3. Well – it’s a pretty big “plot device”, given that it’s meant to be the way the entire human race is saved! So having it not make any sense is a bit of a chink in the story line.

    4. Yes. The Israeli soldier was female. So, Brad pushed a one-handed female Israeli soldier onto the plane because … ?

    5. Fair enough.

    6. Indeed. However, that just brings us back to (1) above.

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  11. AG (1,949 comments) says:


    It’s low on outright gore/blood-and-guts. A few reasonably tense scenes involving pursuit by groups of biters – as well as ambushes from the shadows. And it doesn’t have any humour in it to lessen the tension.

    So – it’ll probably scare them a bit more than Zombieland would do, but won’t scar them for life.

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  12. hmmokrightitis (1,919 comments) says:

    Thanks AG. They both know ‘zombies aren’t real’* so worth a boys weekend shot πŸ™‚

    *Im saving the ‘except for that teacher’ line when one of them gets too cocky πŸ˜‰

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  13. Scott Chris (7,965 comments) says:

    AG -plainly the virus was nano-engineered by Hollywood scientists to be bio-bolstering and self-aware with built in hero fallibility.

    And the plane crash near to the Lab was obviously the act of a whimsical God.


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  14. ChardonnayGuy (1,605 comments) says:

    I think that in a real world situation, the Southern United States would probably prove that country’s achilles heel, given its abyssmal public health infrastructure and extremes of wealth. The zombie virus would go defcon one in a matter of weeks, or possibly even days. And no wonder India proved to be the vector.

    Liked the ending, though. It’s nicely ambivalent, and indicates that humanity is in this for the long haul. Only one thing annoys the hell out of me- where the hell were any references to the *Southern Hemisphere*? In Max Brooks’ excellent original novel, South Africa devised a useful containment policy (the Raedecker Plan) and there’s (scant) mention of a climactic Auckland battle between (Ngati Whatua?) survivors and one million zeds on One Tree Hill.

    Incidentally (as John knows!) I moonlight writing zombie apocalypse fiction on this excellent website:

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  15. Robo (35 comments) says:

    Sounds great. I think I’ll take my teenagers. Just one point re sprinting Zombies. They were first used by Zack Snyder in his great 2004 remake of the Dawn of the Dead – the early scenes of being chased down the suburban streets, and into the supermarket (who can forget the one armed asian sprinter). In Romero’s 1970’s original the Zombies moved at a veeery slow shuffle – people got caught by being surrounded at night or by freezing in terror. As the genre has progressed the Zombies have got faster – which definitely makes them scarier and more realistic for the discerning viewer πŸ™‚

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  16. Sean (313 comments) says:

    What is a ‘tenth man paradigm’?

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  17. iMP (2,665 comments) says:

    The tenth man paradigm, is a thing amongst Israelis, that if 9 out of 10 are all saying 100% the same thing, then the 10th man must advocate the opposite. This is how they work out the zombies are a real threat. It is a devise to ensure against tyranny and mob-mentality leading everyone astray.

    A version of Devil’s advocate.

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  18. ISeeRed (251 comments) says:

    If you’ve seen the trailer, youv’e seen the movie. I thought it was unbelievably mediocre with a weak unsatisfying ending. The best 3D were the corporate logos at the start.

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