Every zombie movie needs a hook: there’s fast zombies and there’s slow zombies. There’s cockney zombies and Nazi zombies; zombies in shopping malls and zombies in space. World War Z has a lot of zombies.
New York turns dead-head in the first five minutes of Marc Forster’s blockbuster horror and the mysterious virus responsible spreads quickly – seeing cities, countries and entire continents piled high with the running dead. Taking the multiple viewpoints of Max Brooks’ bestselling novel and cramming them all into Brad Pitt, Forster’s aerial view of the apocalypse might lack nuance but it more than makes up for it with scale.
Pitt is Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator who manages to pull his family out of Manhattan and nab them a precious bunk bed on America’s last battleship. Called back into service by his old boss, Lane jets around the ruined earth to try and discover the original root of the plague – touching down in South Korean airbases, Israeli cities and, er, Wales. Pitt leads us through the carnage with suitable stoic grace, but WWZ doesn’t really care about anyone with a pulse.
Forster’s zombies aren’t really zombies at all, and they often look more like an angry football crowd on a Saturday night – but there’s never been a more impressive horde of flesh-eaters on the big screen. Sprinting, gnashing, leaping and head-butting their way through civilisation in a swarm of thousands, the Zombie apocalypse finally looks big enough to be believable. Globetrotting from one epic set-piece to the next, WWZ is at its best when the screen is filled – with CG hordes pouring through crowded streets, piling high at city walls and overrunning helicopters like ants.
Forster (Quantum Of Solace) does fast and furious perfectly, but his widescreen approach doesn’t work so well when Lane’s investigation leads him down the dingy corridors of horror movies past and present. Conspicuously bloodless, the PG-13 rating rears its family friendly head whenever the camera gets too close for comfort, and a dumbed down finale looks suspiciously like a scene from every zombie flick that’s ever been made. But it’s not just the intestines that are missing – with Lane’s family crisis set against such a monumental backdrop, WWZ is sorely lacking in heart (and with it, any genuine sense of danger).
The Hollywood blockbuster might be a bit late to the zombie party, but it arrives now exactly as everyone hoped and feared – hectic, deafening, empty but oh-so-spectacular.
Choosing quantity over quality, intensity over tension and big-screen thrills over low-fi shocks – this is probably what the zombie apocalypse will actually look like.