When I think of the most successful zombie movies/TV shows, they’re usually a bit of sombre affair, taking place in a barren, lawless, post-apocalyptic wasteland (like Zombieland, 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead). Or, if there’s a wee bit of civilisation left, it focuses on smaller, isolated incidents (such as [REC], which did touch on the military aspect, or Romero’s Dead series), or otherworldly settings (like Resident Evil). Up until only recently (even before The Walking Dead started), zombies were pretty much a niche thing. Then they exploded, cried for brains, and became teh internet’s new darling. They were the new bacon. They still are.
So, a few months back, when I saw the trailer for World War Z, the first thing that hit me was the sheer scale of what the filmmakers could afford to do. These shuffling, meandering, half-dead lummoxes were not only being given the big-budget, big-screen treatment, but they were also been given the Hollywood makeoever. Welcome to swarms of zombies, waves of the undead, piles – yes, PILES – of bodies using themselves to mount a wall to gain access to the sweet, sweet brains on the other side. These are infected people who are insanely fast (as is the virus that transmits it – seems to take effect within seconds), but the utter force of their bodies en masse is something akin to a bee swarm or a pretty violent sea wave. Unlike rational humans, these zombies have no problem piling upon themselves and using their collective weight to fuck everything up. Scores of them are shot (not effectively) by soldiers, but after enough of the corpses hang on to their helicopter, it’s dragged down and bursts into flames.
I would offer up a plot, but in zombie movies, there’s really just the one plot – they’re a threat, much like those movies that show a global pandemic
(is that redundant?) of some deadly, fast-transmitting disease. Central to the story is Jerry (Brad Pitt), who gets his wife and two daughters to safety on a UN freighter, only to be ordered to go on a short mission with a nerdy scientist guy to get some answers on how to cure this thing. Needless to say, that mission doesn’t go well. And even though it gets off to an odd start, with each destination that Jerry travels to, the movie improves, partly due to the increase in bit-part-actor quality (including The Twelfth Doctor himself). This risks making the movie feel episodic, but with a title like “World War Z” it’s not too far-fetched for him to get around in this movie.
It was smart to have mostly unknown actors in this movie, particularly when screwing with the audience to confuse them about who to root for, because Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, and is unlikely to trip up or do anything that makes him look stupid. At all.
Having not read the book, I felt like I couldn’t really have honestly reviewed this flick, especially because of the backlash of how it bore no resemblance to the source material. My only gripe was that the zombies weren’t terribly frightening – they lurch and get stuck banging their heads against walls, but they croak and groan like a sad, lonely velociraptor with a sore throat. For anyone who isn’t great with gore, there isn’t actually that much when we see their attacks; it’s mostly running, as if the characters are going through the best Haunted House attraction ever. Throw in some product placements (oh hai there Capital One and Pepsi) and the undead have definitely got the slick Hollywood treatment.
On the plus side, zombies have never been cooler. Kinda hoping they’ll stay that way.