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World War Z

Year: 2013
Production Co: Plan B/Skydance
Studio: Paramount
Director: Marc Forster
Producer: Ian Bryce/Brad Pitt
Writer: Mathew Michael Carnahan/Damon Lindelof/Drew Goddard/Max Brooks
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, David Morse, Peter Capaldi

Every now and then a film arrives with so much negative press and well-publicised troubles you want to see it out of sheer curiosity for the train crash you assume it'll be.

Talent like Brad Pitt, Damon Lindelof, Mathew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Marc Forster are all characters in the torturous story of bringing World War Z to the screen, a bunch of reshoots, a six month delay and a movie that looked like it couldn't be saved was the result.

But no movie exists in a vacuum, and you can't watch World War Z without being aware of how terrible you assume it is. So maybe if none of those year-long rumblings about production trouble existed, you might remember it as a worse film.

But after such low expectations, the only real flub is that the scope of the second and third acts are arse-up. All the huge world-beating, wide-angle action shots are in the midsection, while the climax set in rural Wales is – while tense – just too small in scale.

The first positive mention must go to the zombies. After over a decade at the pinnacle of pop culture, what freshness could another zombie movie possibly bring to them? Director Forster was supposed to be inspired by swarming ants and sloshing water, and even before I read that about him I could see it.

The attacking hordes (entirely CG in many shots – the result of some very cool AI software) indeed look like an approaching wave of death. Even though the film shows you all the best examples of it in the trailer – the pyramid of zombies climbing up the walls, surging down the streets of Jerusalem and overturning a bus like a tsunami – they're still amazing on the big screen.

Pitt is Gerry, a former UN official with long hair and scarves whose former job is never explained. When the zombie apocalypse begins to take over the world, they call him back in to get to the bottom of it, the only way he's guaranteed he can keep his wife and daughters safe aboard a battle group far out to sea.

As he crisscrosses the world from dusty Israel to the foggy Welsh countryside on the trail of the virus, the plot stretches a little thinly. It's all on the shoulders of a single man who doesn't even work for the UN anymore charged with finding the answer to the biggest health crisis in history with only a team of army grunts and a biologist who leaves the picture unexpectedly early in the most undignified fashion.

Being a big screen movie, Forster spends most of the running time concentrating on a wide shot, far-off approach. The menace is in the sheer numbers, and one of the criticisms that's been levelled and is fair is that it leaves little room for the blood and gore that should be inherent to the genre (although you can't make a $190m movie and not release it with a PG rating these days).

When it does get in close and individual zombies are the threat they're scary enough, but far from the creepiest monsters in movie history. In fact while it was a good narrative tic, the creepy former doctor who clicks his teeth together like an excited cat salivating over a bird prompted more laughter than terror.

And while he's a brilliant performer, Peter Capaldi as the medical facility director just yanked me out of the movie. I expected a Malcolm Tucker rant at any second.

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