World War Z is an “adaptation” of the beloved horror novel by Max Brooks from 2006. The film casts Brad Pitt in an adaptation of a cherished book fighting zombies, what can go wrong? A lot can. The mainstream media have seemingly savoured their coverage of this movie’s turbulent construction from ballooning budgets to costly reshoots. Constant setbacks have pushed this film back and left many predicting (and some hoping for) a flop. Well thanks to the film’s very healthy performance thus far, World War Z’s story of making it to the big screen is one almost worthy of a film itself and all in all, this is one of the more interesting blockbusters in some time.
Many have been completely infuriated with this film and there is a justifiable reason. Taken as a straight adaptation, this is very different to its literary counterpart, almost completely (aside from a few thematic links and nods to the material). Then again a bad film this does not make (think of how Kubrick approached The Shining).
This is no Shining but when taken as a film, is far from the disaster predicted. World War Z feels more like a different part of Brooks’ dangerous world than an adaptation of the whole of it. A world he thrillingly has presented in his descriptive texts, a world that is our own ravaged by zombies. Which is another aspect of criticism, the changing mythos and gore-lite approach leaves us with a different breed of zombie film. In that respect it feels odd complaining about this, when people have long since moaned about the stagnancy of the genre.
On its own merits there is a film here that plays out as an entertaining pandemic action/thriller that works better with that in mind. A realistic way of looking at a zombie uprising and a film that has many flaws and lacks hardcore horror but not the oncoming dread of the undead, who are faster than ever. The film is as globetrotting as the book, which occasionally feels forced but there is no doubting how it opens some constantly memorable set pieces. Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) keeps the film zipping along from one big action set piece to the next and leaves some nail-biting scenes in its wake from a mid-air breakout to a brilliant rain-drenched shootout. All backed by an impressive Marco Beltrami soundtrack. World War Z may have to convince you with but once it does, it is an entertaining ride with Brad Pitt on fine form in the lead. Even if some of the supporting cast are less memorable.
There are attempts at depth and smarts (realistic zombie prevention, timing infection changes) and whilst the full context of the novel is far deeper by comparison, some intelligence is on show here. World War Z indeed makes a better action movie and even if some of the satire and ideology is there to be used but not evaluated upon enough, as a whole this is solid entertainment. The ending is idealistic though and should have been bolder and it feels different, in its small scale, to the rest of the movie. Also it makes a sequel (which is now an option) seem far more difficult.
The fact is that this is different; it is not as good as the novel and not as ideologically charged as it could be. Yet it is a pandemic thriller with action, fun, memorable sequences and a good central performance that keeps the straightforward plot going. Your enjoyment will depend on how you are able to take distancing from source material but a film that had so many problems reaching the big screen should have been far worse than this.