World War Z has had a lot of bad buzz. Like, a lot of bad buzz. But it turns out that the buzz doesn’t fit the reality: World War Z is actually a lot of fun and surprisingly well put together as an action film.
First of all, no, it’s not the book. But if you set the book aside, or treat it as the script intends — the story of the guy who wrote the book in the first place — it’s actually pretty solid.
In fact, the infamous production trouble doesn’t show at all. This movie is surprisingly tight — clocking in at under two hours — and Marc Forster, the director, can deftly juggle a suspense scene and an action scene. It also helps that the CGI zombies are, despite being a centerpiece of the trailer, actually kept to a minimum. There are a lot of practical effects here, and Forster even manages to get around the PG-13 restriction on gore in some really creative ways; the first time a zombie clamps down hard on steel with its teeth, you’re gonna cringe.
The opening scenes in Philadelphia actually work a lot better than the trailer would indicate, partially because Forster makes a point of making the zombies hard to pick out, at first. These aren’t obviously shambling undead, and in fact you don’t get a good look at them until later in the movie. Also, they actually say “zombie” in this movie and they largely dump the siege movie conceit: this is a movie constantly on the run.
That said, there are a few problems here. Brad Pitt’s character doesn’t do much from the end of the first act until the end of the third act. He just kind of stands around and looks like Brad Pitt finding exposition for the audience while other people shoot zombies — when he’s not busy getting other people killed — and the movie coasts on that a little too much. Secondly, by the end of the first act you will be baffled he didn’t chuck his family off the top of that Newark apartment building. His kids are annoying and frankly pretty stupid, in the most annoying horror-movie cliche way possible, and his wife isn’t much better as a character. Mireille Enos, the actress playing his wife, gets almost nothing to do but hug their kids, and his family seems to exist to establish that Brad Pitt’s a cool guy you can relate to.
Similarly, the attempt by the movie to make the zombie plague a metaphor for larger social problems doesn’t really click. The point’s easy to get but the movie doesn’t really earn its social commentary. But as spectacle, and as an overall zombie movie, it’s actually a lot of fun, with some inventive direction and plenty of action. It’s not perfect, but it moves, it spent a lot of money putting together its elaborate action sequences, and it’s a lot of fun.
In short, it’s a great summer weekend movie and a great shakeup for the zombie genre.