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Many a moon ago at a preview screening of the excellent British zom-com, Shaun of the Dead attended by stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Pegg requested a consensus on our undead preferences: “Do you like fast-moving zombies or slow-moving zombies?”  The crowds’ adoration for the lumbering, loping variety was utterly unanimous.  I can’t help but recall that moment nearly every time I see anything zombie related, so it was very much on my mind viewing World War Z.

Gerry Lane has a perfect life; a lovely wife and two cereal ad-ready daughters and a past he’d like to stay buried.  That bucolic existence doesn’t quite go to plan when the daily drive to the girls’ school is riddled with car crashes, explosions and people acting very strangely. Lane sees something might be amiss when witnessing a disturbed-looking person crash their head through a plate glass windshield in order to nibble on the car’s driver, who seemingly dead, then spasmodically rises, slightly glassy-eyed to pay that gift of eternal life forward.  Not stopping to question further, Lane hightails it out of town when his past comes calling.  Lane was a special agent with the United Nations and has all kinds of handy MacGyver-type skills.  Reluctant as he is to go back into service, Lane realises membership has its privileges and in exchange for his expertise, his old boss promises safety for his family (plus a plucky youngster whose family was infected) aboard a seaborne cruiser.  There’s no choice, really, so off Lane goes trying to locate patient zero; the first recorded case of the zombie infection, in the hopes of discovering a cure.  Visits to South Korea and Israel turn up nothing but overwhelming numbers of flesh eaters and all seems lost until Lane witnesses a strange phenomenon that leads him to the World Health Organisation offices in Wales, which happens also to be overrun with zombies.  Lane theorises that whatever the bacteria is that is turning everyone into the undead can recognise a healthy host; perhaps purposely infecting the still-living with an illness might camouflage those who might otherwise become zombie meat and buy time for a cure.  This is a wonderful idea, but first he has to wade through a building full of hungry people eaters.

Written by Max Brooks in 2006, World War Z was one of my favourite books of that year.  However, I realised when it was optioned to become a film that there was no way that its structure as a series of oral interviews tracking from the first known infestation forward around the globe for nearly a decade, would remain intact.  I had hoped that some of the themes of a world overcoming its petty squabbles and uniting in the chomping face of the flesh eaters would bear out.  There is a small nod to Israelis and Palestinians joining together for mutual survival, but as this takes place in the early days of the apocalypse, that’s the only instance.  Brooks’ innovative novel is reduced to a very large budgeted, bombastic, but terribly ordinary and not very interesting zombie flick.  The film wants us to care about Brad Pitt’s family, such a saccharine group that one wonders what Mother’s Day card they stepped out of?  They are only a plot device; the impetus for why Lane gets involved and nothing more.  It’s a little disappointing as Mrs. Lane at first seems to have some skills of her own, protecting her babies from the zombies, but it’s never explored nor mentioned again.  Instead of the worldwide interaction and slowly finding the means to survive the plague, it’s all about Lane singlehandedly delivering the world from the threat of a total undead takeover.  Like many of his epiphanies, his means of conclusion for the zombie-repellant vaccine come way too conveniently.  Even the brilliant scientist who begins Lane on the train of thought toward the big find is almost immediately and ridiculously dispatched, so, naturally our hero must step in for the genius.  While likable, Brad Pitt doesn’t quite put over his James Bond/Jason Bourne-lite UN super-agent.  The character isn’t commanding enough and doesn’t have the snappy dialog and action to make him memorable.  24’s James Badge Dale makes much more of an impression in a lot less time as a snarky, seen-it-all military man leading what few troops he has left in an outpost in South Korea. Likewise more compelling was the shorn-haired female Israeli agent {Played by Daniella Kertesz}, who, even after having a hand chopped off to stave off the zombie virus, is still pretty sharp with a pistol.  Simply put, Lane is bland, and if the audience doesn’t buy that he’s capable of all these incredible feats then would-be heroic moments like his testing his theory by randomly choosing a bottle of lethal bacteria to inject himself without even looking at the label become laughable.  With all the devastation across the globe, I could not be moved to care whether his family lived or died and thought maybe losing one (or all three) would make the story more interesting.  An intriguing situation that once again isn’t followed through is when Lane goes missing after a plane crash and the military proceeds to dump his family off the cruiser safe haven.  Talk about gratitude.

Still, I guess in a movie like this, it really comes down to the zombie action and there are some good set pieces.  There’s a lot of jumpy frights as the undead move so ridiculously fast and are so super strong, I pondered the feasibility of a zombie entrant in the Olympics.  No Walking about it, these are the Running Dead.  The wave-like formations of the mindless creatures whose only motivation is to eat people is pretty breathtaking; particularly during a celebration gone too loud behind Israel’s humongous anti-zombie wall.  Like an anthill of the undead, the flesh eaters pile on top of each other to scale the previously impregnable fort.  Nobody likes to be left out of a good party.  The sequence aboard Lane’s escape flight was both fun and educational, validating my suspicions about where airplane food actually comes from.  Predictable but amusing is the climatic face-off with the chicken-jawed zombies inside the World Health Organisation building, where Lane and his compatriots must exercise extreme quiet to get through the meandering horde.  I was glad the freakiest zombie in the movie was quarantined; an undead WHO scientist kept in isolation that looked so much like the Zuni Warrior Fetish Doll from the 1975 horror classic, Trilogy of Terror, I was having bad flashbacks.  Truly the scariest moment in the entire film.

If fans of the book are looking for a faithful or even somewhat-vague adaptation, this is not the one.  The title of the book and some faint ideas have been lifted and that’s all.  Despite the script’s hokey, patronising and tired motivation of, ‘Save my unrealistically perfect family’, the movie is probably a lot more entertaining for those who’ve never read the novel.  Taken as completely visceral, popcorn-scarfing fun, with its lowest common denominator super fast zombies, explosions and special effects-fest set pieces, there are worse things to subject oneself to this summer than World War Z.  It’s unfortunate that it couldn’t have been much more.  Like zombies of yore, World War Z could do with more brains.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 21st, 2013



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