Ever since I started reading the Walking Dead comic book, I’ve become a fan of the genre, even though I’ve never understood how zombies work. Aren’t they comprised of necrotic tissue? If so, how do they manage to shuffle for such great lengths? Wouldn’t they decompose or succumb to environmental extremes like heat or cold? How does dead muscle tissue allow them to ambulate? Or in the case of modern zombie films, including World War Z, how are they able to run like Kenyans in a marathon?
So that raises a nitpick question I have about this film. Are the creatures here really zombies? At the beginning of the film, we see people being attacked, and within seconds, they turn, rather violently, in herky-jerky spasms, I might add. So, I’m led to believe there’s no death involved, rather viral mutation. And the fact that Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane goes globe-hopping to find Patient Zero as well as the source of the pandemic makes it seem like a disease rather than preternatural undead activity. For those of you who read the book, maybe you can clear that up for me. And if you have read the book, my understanding is you probably won’t like the movie because it diverges from the source material significantly.
I didn’t read the book (I plan to now) but in what I’ve read about the differences between film and novel, it strikes me that, while this was a very effective horror-thriller, the filmmakers may have missed a chance to do something really unique with this quickly-becoming-played-out genre to make it stand out from the 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, Dawn Of The Dead series of films, and of course not to mention the awesome Walking Dead program. My understanding is the book’s narrative unfolds through a series of reporter interviews and news reports in the aftermath of the Zombie World War. Imagine how original this film would have been, had it been presented like a documentary; the zombie set pieces could’ve been shown in flashback or in vignettes as the interviewees recount their stories. I remember only recently, after I became somewhat of a fan of zombie lore, I bought Romero’s classic Night Of The Living Dead on DVD and I was amazed at how ahead of its time it seemed. In that film, the zombie onslaught is reported very realistically over TV and radio; that technique was effective back then and it could’ve been put to good use here.
But despite the fact that towards its conclusion, the film becomes just another series of horror cliches, the cliches are presented masterfully. I like the fact that it starts out very innocuously, where we see the Lane family rising out of bed, preparing to take on another ordinary day. Without warning, in the middle of Philadelphia gridlock, the zombies attack. Perhaps in reality, a zombie uprising would garnish a little more advance attention, but I imagine it would probably happen as suddenly as portrayed in this film. As an allegory, much like a cold virus overtakes me with no advance notice, so might a zombie apocalypse. Right away, we see how zombies are quickly able to overrun the global population. Apparently, these zombies don’t take the time eat you; they bite and move on. Once you’re bitten, you turn. The efficiency of it allows the zombie horde to increase exponentially. And these zombies can move. They jump, they hurl themselves, they climb over each other, they move like a swarm of insects (cleverly alluded to in the opening credits).
But as I mentioned, the film moves along and serves up a series of derivative set pieces, but they’re so well done, I kind of didn’t care that they were cliched. Tense and exciting scenes included the refueling of military air carrier in North Korea, the overtaking of Jerusalem (if zombies are attracted to noise, it’s probably not a good idea to shout your midday prayers over megaphones), a zombie attack on a plane (“I’ve had it with these motherf**king zombies on this…”–no, no I won’t go there), and most effectively, a standoff at the World Health Organization.
I was a little conflicted by the scene at the W.H.O. You have this film which does manage to stand out from all the other zombie films and TV shows because this is the first time I’ve seen a zombie apocalypse on a global scale. Usually, we’re dropped in the middle of the story after the zombies have infested the world. Here, we get to see humanity address the crisis as it unfolds. Considering the Walking Dead, one could imagine that this film takes place in between the time lawman Rick Grimes is shot and after he wakes up alone in his hospital bed. I really liked seeing the onset of the pandemic, and seeing things before they completely go to hell. I also, once again, liked the worldwide scale this film presented. So, I was slightly disappointed that so much of the weight was reduced to a scene at the W.H.O. But once the scene unfolded, I got over that disappointment quickly. It’s a great setup, which I don’t want to spoil, it’s a thrilling series of obstacles the hero has to overcome. I will say that the W.H.O. has some of the noisiest doors and machines I’ve ever seen in an office. But I wouldn’t have expected any less in a sequence like this.
There are places where the filmmakers drop the ball and some things are a little hard to swallow. Unless young Hispanic boys are not really attached to their parents, one would think a kid would evince a little more sadness at losing his entire family. And I’m going to start sitting near the front when I book my plane tickets because apparently sitting in front makes it possible to survive a crash where the front of the plane splits off from the rear, burst in flames, and rolls over a couple times. And the outcome of the W.H.O scene might ring a little false, as maybe our protagonist is a little too lucky with a choice he has to make, but overall, none of these leaps take away from the entertainment value of the film.
I’d forgotten how good an actor Brad Pitt is, because even though he still maintains some pretty boy features and he sports a hippie pageboy haircut, he managed to make me believe that the U.N. would send a retired investigator into these deadly zombie hot zones. It’s not an original piece of work by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an entertaining entry in the zombie pantheon. 3.5/5 reels