Early 'World War Z' Reviews & Reactions - Is It Actually Any Good?
by Alex Billington
June 3, 2013
With the release of Marc Forster's World War Z adaptation now less than a month away, Paramount has mounted a massive recovery and damage control/cover-up campaign to turn everyone's attention away from the bad CGI, the reshoots, and Damon Lindelof's tinkering. Their effort to change everyone's disinterested minds began when they first showed it to Deadline's Mike Fleming, who called it, "a rocking, smart, pulse-pounding big-scale pandemic with raging zombies, palpable tension, and the kind of hero star turn Pitt hasn't performed in a long time." Now it's about to hit UK theaters meaning reviews have been published, and other screenings have taken place with reactions all over. So is it any good? Did they salvage it? Maybe.
Despite being adapted from the bestselling zombie novel by Max Brooks, Paramount has insisted on not referring to World War Z as a zombie movie in any marketing or publicity. Instead, Brad Pitt stars in the global action-adventure as a UN employee trying to stop "the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself." We've all seen trailers and crazy footage and have been following its ups and downs in development over the last few years, but now it's finally time to find out if there is anything to this studio movie, or if it's one of 2013's big disasters. What do the early reviews say?
Stefan Pape writes for our friends at HeyUGuys (3/5):
"Zombies are becoming too archetypal a concept in cinema, and it requires something really innovative to fully justify spending a lot of money to re-enter the world of the undead, and though this certainly has its moments, it's just not quite creative or original enough. That's not to say it's not worth seeing mind you, but before you discuss this amongst peers, you're going to have to settle on whether it's called World War Zee, or World War Zed. The latter will get you brownie points on this side of the Atlantic that's for sure."
Some praise from Roger Friedman on Showbiz411:
"They build characters and tension so that the audience is really involved in the story. Don't get me wrong. This isn't The King's Speech. WWZ is a popcorn movie on the level of Independence Day. But like that summer hit, Forster's film never flags and is always entertaining."
The opposite from Chris Tookey in The Daily Mail:
"Brad Pitt introduced the screening I attended, and promised the audience ‘the most intense film you're going to see this summer'. He called it 'original' and 'genre-bending'. If only it were… None of the writers is at his best, and the film bears unmistakable signs of having been assembled by a Hollywood studio over-preoccupied with earning a family-friendly certificate. Virtually all the violence takes place fractionally off-screen. Disappointingly, the final product is much more conventional than the book and avoids its most interesting and innovative qualities."
Another mediocre reaction from Nick de Semlyen on Empire (3/5):
"The majority of the run-time sees Pitt and an assortment of sidekicks facing down 'Zeke' in a familiar array of bunkers, apartment blocks and labs. While it's all handled with skill and the actors sell the fear, it feels like a slight gyp, especially when the climax of the movie — which was reshot at great expense — is on a smaller scale than the third act of Shaun Of The Dead. There is also more than one slap-your-forehead moment, like the bit where Gerry, a highly trained covert operative, forgets to put his phone on silent while traversing an infected zone. Silly Gerry."
A scathing review from Charlotte O'Sullivan in the London Evening Standard (3/5):
"What a disaster. This end-of-the-world epic — Brad Pitt's 'baby', which he's been working on since 2007 — is mostly bland and extremely bloated. It's Z for zombie, in case you're wondering. But a more apt title would be World War Zzzzz…"
Similar middle-ground review from Robbie Collin in The Telegraph (2/5):
"What we get is a collection of moderately violent action set-pieces untroubled by humour or broader coherence. Lane travels from Philadelphia (played on-screen by Glasgow) to Nova Scotia via New York, New Jersey, South Korea, Israel and Wales, and almost nothing that happens along the way has the slightest effect on the film's final outcome… At least the film has one neat trick: in the Israel sequence we see Boschian wide-shots of zombie hordes coursing down streets and sluicing over barriers like a great, monstrous flood. This chimes with the footage of swarming insects in the opening titles, and suggests that the film may have once had a point to make before the rot set in. But there's no heart to be found amid the guts."
Finally a more positive take from Stella Papamichael on Digital Spy (4/5):
"Zombies are on the rampage in World War Z, but the B-movie premise becomes an epic story of survival in the hands of director Marc Foster. If his Quantum of Solace was too esoteric, then it's the opposite here, as Brad Pitt traverses continents to find a cure to the fast-spreading scourge. Everything about the film moves at a breakneck pace, including the zombies. It's a total rush."
Back to a mixed response from Paul Bradshaw on Total Film (3/5):
"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."
Update - a few more WWZ reviews added from the major US film trades below, to spice things up.
A mixed review with some reservations from Scott Collura on IGN:
"As for the zombies themselves, despite what we've seen in the ads, they're actually a mix of the fast, running type of ghoul and the slow, shambling, classic Romero variety. The script's reasoning behind this is pretty clever, actually. And while the mountains and mountains of undead that swarm like human-sized insects run the risk of being too CGI at times, ultimately I found that these scenes worked pretty well. The all-out bedlam and anxiety of the mass attacks displaces any such concerns. […]
Zombie fans will also be bored by the occasional derivative element that pops up, the kind of stuff that any Walking Dead viewer already has figured out. But largely, World War Z is less a zombie movie than it is an intense thriller that just happens to have zombies all over the place."
A fairly positive review from Todd McCarthy on Hollywood Reporter:
"Waves of startling action counterbalance standard one-man-saves-the-day Hollywood heroics in World War Z, an immersive apocalyptic spectacle that tosses the viewer into the deep end of a global zombie uprising and doesn't let up until close to the end. A bunch of impressive set pieces stitched together rather than a good story convincingly told, this gargantuan production should ride Brad Pitt's name, teeming action scenes and widespread interest in all things zombie to strong box office returns… There is certainly a tension running through the film between latent serious ambition and lowest-common-denominator-pleasing requirements, with the latter ruling the day most of the time without entirely erasing evidence of the former. Notwithstanding the expectation that the brave leading man and his adored family will somehow come out of it all unscathed, there are a few narrative surprises along the way and an absence of dumb, clunking dialogue that often infects such fare."
And finally another sort-of-positive review from Scott Foundas on Variety:
"Showing few visible signs of the massive rewrites, reshoots and other post-production patchwork that delayed its release from December 2012, this sleekly crafted, often nail-biting tale of global zombiepocalypse clicks on both visceral and emotional levels, resulting in an unusually serious-minded summer entertainment whose ideal audience might be described as comicbook fanboys who also listen to Democracy Now. […]
[Director Marc] Forster handles the large-scale action here with considerable aplomb and much striking imagery, enhanced by the seamless mix of choreography, prosthetics and CG that bring the herking, jerking zombies to 'life'… Moreover, the director always keeps the movie rooted in a compelling dramatic situation, with Pitt giving a very appealing turn as the seen-it-all veteran of the world’s worst places whose desire to protect his family trumps his desire to save the world. By today’s standards, he’s a refreshingly human-scaled movie hero, with no outsized strength, agility or superpowers to help him win the day."
So, maybe it's not that great after all? These UK reviews are a lot more mixed/negative than I was expecting.
However, on the other side of the Atlantic early World War Z screening reactions so far have been much, much more positive. Overwhelmingly positive, as blogs have written as their headline, but is this anything more than a well-organized tactic to try and keep the buzz positive? Most of the reactions have been coming from celebrities and very trustworthy names in entertainment, and they usually come after Brad Pitt makes a personal appearance at the screening (which happened in New Jersey recently). One person we do trust - filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (who's working on Noah with Paramount) posted this tweet after seeing it:
saw the long awaited #worldwarz last night. first 45 mins scared the living heck at me. nearly broke my girls hand I was so tense. Go Pitt
— darren aronofsky (@DarrenAronofsky) May 23, 2013
In addition, numerous other celebrities and notable names have been tweeting early reactions to World War Z screenings. However, Paramount has been carefully selecting a few prominent voices to see the film and post their (usually positive) response after. But is it enough to convince everyone that WWZ might actually be a good movie? Or at least solid summer entertainment that's worth seeing, even if it's not the best zombie movie ever? They really don't want to lose money on this $250M+ movie. Let's just hope all this buzz is true.
I just saw World war Z and it was a decent approach to the Genre… Best Zombie acting I've seen… And I've been in a Zombie film….
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) June 2, 2013
Just saw World War Z. Sooo much better than World War A-Y. #WorldWarZ
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) May 23, 2013
— Kevin Bacon (@kevinbacon) May 23, 2013
With Morgan F at the World War Z screening. Love him and really liked the movie when my eyes weren't covered! twitter.com/katiecouric/st…
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) May 23, 2013
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) May 23, 2013
World War Z premiere last night! Awesome film! Highly recommend! instagram.com/p/aGOcT3xg-9/
— Andy Brown (@LawsonAndy) June 3, 2013
World War Z will probably be the most intense movie you will see this summer…I was shocked it was that good. So much for those re-shoots.
— LatinoReview-Kel (@Latinoreview) May 23, 2013
Saw World War Z. Not at all the disaster it's been made out to be. It's entertaining and will do fine. So there, negative buzz,
— Kurt Andersen (@KBAndersen) May 23, 2013
World War Z is unreal. A great film. Was totally stressed out from start to finish
— Emma Heming-Willis (@EmmaHeming) May 23, 2013
What do you make of all these reactions? Are they enough to convince you that World War Z might actually be good? They haven't shown it to many US-based movie bloggers or hardcore fans yet, just vocal voices online and reputable celebrities in hopes of getting the mainstream public to forget about any negative buzz (they've heard). It is an uphill battle for Paramount, that's for sure, but I'm curious if there's actually a good movie waiting to be seen or if they're just covering up a big zombie disaster with positive tweets. Only time will tell, but until then it's worth taking a quick look at the wide variety of reactions and reviews out so far.
World War Z is directed by German filmmaker Marc Forster, of films Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner, Quantum of Solace and Machine Gun Preacher previously. The screenplay was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, State of Play) and revised by Damon Lindelof (Star Trek, Prometheus). It's adapted from Max Brooks' beststelling zombie book World War Z. Paramount will release World War Z in theaters on June 21st after being delayed from December last year.