If you attempt the impossible and look past Brad Pitt’s face, you’ll see that he’s a genuinely great actor. Just look at the versatility of previous roles: he’s played a detective in Se7en, a feared leader of Nazi hunters in Inglourious Basterds and in possibly his most famous role, the cocky and smug Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Now thanks to World War Z, Pitt can add ‘retired UN employee thrown back into the mix’ to his resume.
Based (loosely) on the book of the same name, World War Z sees Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, travel the world in an attempt to discover what caused an outbreak that transformed ordinary, everyday folk into bloodthirsty, undead creatures.
The film wastes no time in getting down to business: within 10 minutes, downtown Philadelphia is overrun with hordes of zombies. It’s a frantic introduction that falsely implies that the rest of the film will follow suit in terms of pace. Whilst this is not the case, it doesn’t make it any less of an entertaining experience. Pitt gives a great performance as the lead, making us sympathise with his predicament. What I found surprising about the character, especially since it’s played by such a prominent actor, is that he never seems in control of the situation, nor is he ever portrayed as an action hero who saves the day. In fact, for the most part, it’s other characters who are the heroes, with Gerry frequently being surrounded and protected. There’s not a whole lot of other notable players though, and Pitt is the only one who doesn’t seem expendable.
The film spans a number of countries, and they all include their own massive pivotal point. The standout one though has to be in Jerusalem, scenes which have featured heavily in the trailer. Nonetheless, the film still holds a few surprises not seen in the previews, and it’s here that the full scale of the pandemic is properly expressed. A lot of critics have been disappointed with the lack of gore, and admittedly there are occasions where a little blood wouldn’t have gone amiss, I felt this focused more on building tension than explicitly dismembering zombies. Besides, we already have countless living dead movies where there’s no holding back on the violence, so it’s refreshing to see one that manages to be atmospheric without being too brutal. The issue some people have with minimal gore is completely understandable though, and we can only hope that in the inevitable sequel, the director (whoever that may be) takes this into account and strikes a balance of blood and tension.
The ‘infected’ themselves are largely disappointing, due to them being noticeably CGI. It’s impressive to see thousands upon thousands of bloodthirsty zombies demolish cities, but the shine is taken away because they look visibly different from the real actors who are running. The first trailer of the film had them looking ropey, but I optimistically thought that it was still in production and the design would be polished before the release date. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, and when the undead are in packs it doesn’t look realistic at all. This critisism is somewhat salvaged though in the final 30 minutes when there’s a small number of them who are actors in makeup: proof that sometimes the old fashioned ways of doing things are the most effective.
In a market over saturated with all things undead, World War Z performs CPR and brings it back to life for an hour or so. It won’t be the film many were hoping for, but it’s a satisfying feast nonetheless that doesn’t require brains to enjoy.