World War Z *** (out of five)
A famously troubled production, which jettisoned its already shot, huge third act – a massive human versus zombie battle in Russia – because it simply wasn’t working – and hired additional writers after it was finished to fix it, occasioning serious reshoots (you can see Brad Pitt’s hair length go from above the shoulder to below the shoulder and back again, if you can take your eyes off the gazillions of freaky zombies), the end result is episodic, and some episodes are simply much better than others.
Pitt, also a producer, plays Gerry, who used to work for the UN (I couldn’t for the life of me figure out in what role exactly) who has quit to become a stay at home dad, but gets called back into action when a zombie plague goes global. Gerry is charged with finding the source of the plague, sending him to Korea, Israel and finally Wales, battling, running from and essentially getting bombarded by creepy, fast-moving, shrieking zombie fiends along the way.
The section on Korea is so darkly shot as to be essentially unwatchable; if you wanted to go for a coffee, this would be the time. Confusing and frustrating, it should have been trimmed or excised. Things are a lot more fun in Israel, which hosts an extended section all lit by bright sunlight, which contains some staggering set pieces. It’s the best part of the film by a zombie mile.
The Wales scenes, replacing the Russian catastrophe, are quite creepy and effective, and allow Pitt to actually do a little bit of acting, not just running, shooting and stabbing screechy zombies.
Besides being consummate examples of suspenseful direction, what 28 Days Later and Contagion (Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh, respectively) shared was extremely tight internal logic: both played out as you imagined such calamities might. World War Z suffers most in comparison here. There are huge, gaping logical plot points that will be very dissatisfying for those who like their apocalypse stories well baked, particularly in the reshot third act. But as a massive action film rather than a smart one, World War Z has pace, an undeniably awesome second act, and shitloads of freaky, creepy, screechy, gooey, bloody, spooky, yucky zombies.