World War Z (2013) – Review

World War ZThe first, albeit minor, issue I have with World War Z is pronunciation. Is it okay to  say the letter the British way? Will Americans react with anger? Is the fact that it sounds like “World War 3” when said the American way deliberate? I shall just write about it, and never say the name.

 There’s a virus. It turns people into zombies. No one knows where it started, but it’s everywhere, and spreading rapidly – nowhere in the world is safe. Brad Pittp plays a retired investigator for the UN who gets caught up in it all. He’s tasked with tracking down the source, and finding a cure, and has to balance this with his desire to protect his family. 

It’s something of a cliché that no one in zombie films has ever seen a zombie film. That’s not the case in World War Z – they’ve all seen zombie films, they know what the word means, but they haven’t learnt from this. Time and time again, authorities and individuals make truly terrible decisions, decisions that a few moments thought would have suggested were unwise. They split up, make noise, go outside in the dark. Governments implement poorly-organised quarantines, or prioritise anything other than the shambling ranks of the undead.

Brad Pitt’s character is the only one who consistently puts thought into things. Quite apart from being the major driving force of the plot, he takes basic zombie-fighting precautions such as ensuring he has weapons that don’t attract the horde, constructing rudimentary body armour, and understanding anything about his enemies. If all characters in zombie films were like Brad Pitt’s in this one, outbreaks of the undead would be much rarer and more limited.

But it’s just Brad Pitt in this one, and so the situation keeps on getting worse, mistake after mistake letting the zombies into new areas and overrunning the last bastions of humanity.

The overwhelming impression I got from this film was slickness – it’s incredibly well-designed to not confuse or surprise anyone. Every important plot point is made very, very clear. That’s not to say that the film beats you over the head with anything, the exposition is well-designed, but the film leads nothing to chance. I’m relatively certain that I could have watched the film in a language I have never heard before, and still followed everything. It’s occasionally a little irritating, how the film doesn’t trust the audience not to be morons, but I can see why the decision was made.

That slickness is also present in the plot. Society collapses very fast, faster than seems reasonable. From the picture of slightly forced domesticity at the start of the film, the US is in total chaos in hours, abandoning cities and even the entire landmass to the zombie threat. A busy, but un-zombied street in a major city turns in the space of a few seconds to infected-ridden chaos. It’s too quick, the zombies too unopposed.

Again, I can see why they made the choice, sacrificing a little narrative coherence and suspension of disbelief in order to get to the action – World War Z is a zombie film that takes place after the zombies have mostly won, but also a film that doesn’t want to lose the emotional punch of seeing society in chaos. In addition, having society collapse at the start lets Brad Pitt’s family be put in danger – if the film took place later in the apocalypse, presumably they would have found somewhere safer. So the film fast-forwards, essentially, making the collapse, that should have taken months at least, take only hours. That way, they get the collapse of society and the war in full sway.

I found it best, with this film, to stop questioning. We are sped through the set up, through a string of deeply unlikely coincidences, and then the actual film commences when Brad Pitt is on his first helicopter. At that point, it’s much more of a war film than a zombie film. The enemy is the undead, but they’re fought with guns and artillery rather than a group of scared survivors making their way to the Winchester. The final act is much more as expected – limited scale, confined location, improvised weapons.

There are a lot of separate sections in the plot. He goes all over the world, chasing down a cure, and each new country is a new set of scenes. To be entirely honest, not all of the sections needed to be there, but I’m not sure which I’d remove. Each section is a slightly different perspective on the war, and I rather liked all the different angles. America shows an evacuation, Israel a war, Korea a last stand, and so on.

There were lots of little touches that I rather liked – the way they deal with the possibility of infection, the asides mentioning how other countries are dealing with the issue. One thing I particularly liked was seeing an American film in which the good guys were the UN; the US isn’t the best at giving anyone else credit for anything in films.

World War Z is a zombie film crossed with a war film, as the name might suggest. It’s well made and cleverly put together, and approaches the whole zombie thing from different angles to other films. It’s not fantastic, not groundbreaking, but it doesn’t drop the ball, and it has a polish that a lot of films lack.

Buy it here.

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