World War Z (2013)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Fana Mokoena, Ruth Negga

Directed by: Marc Forster

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

World War Z

When I reviewed the thoroughly excellent low budget zombie film The Battery, I pointed out that on the whole, zombie movies are better if they don't feature too many zombies. But I was forced to eat my words when I saw the poster for World War Z (left). Surely a zombie movie has to include some zombies?

Actually I needn't have worried – the b*ggers are everywhere, ghastly, ever-multiplying, inhuman creatures swarming across the face of the earth like a plague of locusts. Because let's make one thing clear: unlike, say Night of the Living Dead or Shaun of the Dead, the zombies here are not people, or even ex-people; not someone's girlfriend, daughter, stepdad, mother, not even a cheerleader, postman or bride – just a terrible, pestilent mob that must be exterminated. In fact, there's something unpleasantly reminiscent of class warfare propaganda here: the undead are a mindless, faceless proletariat underclass who threaten the comfortable lives of wholesome, white, middle-class families like that of our hero Gerry, and so must be destroyed.

Anyway. Following in the wake of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, both of which have succeeded in attracting a mainstream audience to a genre subject by casting quality actors, ensuring top notch, big budget production values and basing the whole shebang on solid, well-loved source material, World War Z has pulled out the A list big guns in the form of Brad Pitt, netted itself an even bigger budget and bought the options on a great source, Max Brooks' cult novel (which I still think would have made a fantastic TV series, perhaps with each episode directed by a different Master of Horror – but I digress). A shame, then, that the movie version choses to jettison almost all the book, bar the idea that zombies have taken over the world.

None of the moments I found memorable, chilling or moving have made their way into the screenplay: so no lone soldier guided from behind enemy lines by a mysterious voice; no starving camps of refugees forced into cannibalism; no underwater zombies, and no Queen turning Windsor Castle into a fortified safe haven (and here was me looking forward to some corgis…)

Brad Pitt saves the world in World War Z

Instead we have Brad Pitt saving the world, in a film that's more Contagion meets War of the Worlds than Dawn of the Dead, an action thriller not a horror movie. (And yes, just as in Contagion, it's down to the British actors, headed up by Peter Capaldi, to help our hero save the planet from descending into undead omnishambles.)

And then there's the familiar Glasgow setting of the opening scenes, which serves both to bring the action closer to home, but also to make it seem utterly ridiculous, especially when the camera pans away from George Square to reveal a US city of skyscrapers under siege.

Sure, it's exciting and has some good jump scares; the big set pieces are suitably jaw-dropping and the understated climax is unexpectedly bold and almost moving. But it all seems slightly soulless, engaging the intellect but not the emotions, avoiding the clichés of many zombie movies (the undead child, the baseball bat raid on a pharmacy, the loved one bitten and turned, the realisation that the living are generally more scary than the dead, the blood and brains and guts, goddamnit, where were they?) not by being a zombie movie that does things differently, subverting our expectations by playing with tradition, like 28 Days Later, Zombieland or Warm Bodies but by, well, not really being a zombie movie at all.

So if you really want to see a great zombie film this summer, track down The Battery. Meanwhile, there's still a great TV series to be made from Max Brooks' novel…

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