Until this week you could have counted me among the many who had written off World War Z as the probable bomb of the decade. There were the signs of a troubled production: Reports of rewrites and reshoots trickling through to the press, and rumors that star Brad Pitt was dissatisfied with the film even as it was being completed. Fans of the book were grumbling that its structure had been abandoned completely, and response to early footage of twitching, running zombies had not been well-received by some. Even as the initial batch of mostly positive reviews rolled in I still had my doubts.
This past Saturday night I made the decision to leave those doubts at the theater door and see the film for myself, and I’m glad that I did.
While World War Z isn’t a faithful retelling of Max Brooks’ hit novel, it is a deft reinterpretation of its premise. Even a die-hard fan would have to admit that Brooks’ novel, structured as a collection of survivors’ tales transcribed by an anonymous employee long after the “zombie war”, would be hard to adapt to the screen. Some concessions had to be made to create a viable film.
When an unknown virus sweeps the globe turning billions into zombies, former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is forced back into service to accompany an epidemiologist in his search for the origins of the plague. After the epidemiologist dies, Lane continues the search on his own.
Each leg of Lane’s journey is more harrowing than the last, with huge depictions of mass violence and panic as cities fall alternating with tense scenes as Gerry and companions dodge or fight zombies in smaller, more intimate settings. It’s a genuinely frightening movie, and one that takes on the zombie apocalypse trope in an explosive, take-no-prisoners fashion that has never been tried before.
The movie’s not perfect: There are a couple of hokey scenes that might leave horror movie veterans groaning as obvious cliches, and occasionally the CGI zombies look like – well – CGI, but over all this is the big, zombie epic that fans have been waiting for, and if they give it a chance they’ll be pleasantly surprised.