For a while there, it looked like World War Z was going to be Brad Pitt's passion project turned hot undead hubristic mess, but the early reviews of the film have now arrived, and — would you look at that — it's actually just a run-of-the-mill summer zombie movie. And that's not a bad thing.
In fact, Scott Foundas of Variety gives World War Z a wholly positive review, calling it "surprisingly smart, gripping and imaginative" and praising Pitt and director Marc Forster:
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.
That's enough praise for this re-shot, oft-tabloided $200 million adaptation to have gained a few new fans in Hollywood:
Wow. Paramount pulled WORLD WAR Z out of a dive. Good for them. I'll see this: variety.com/2013/film/revi…— Josh Dickey (@NotoriousJLD) June 4, 2013
Not that Z didn't have its insider fanboys already, but still:
THR's WORLD WAR Z review hits: bit.ly/ZrxV5g key words "immersive" "impressive set pieces"— Borys Kit (@Borys_Kit) June 4, 2013
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy isn't actually that enthusiastic, but he does calls the movie an "immersive apocalyptic spectacle."
To be sure, World War Z has a lot to live up to, and much of the criticism from reviews so far stems from how reductive the film seems when compared to Max Brooks' text, a savvy political allegory that Paramount optioned in 2006. McCarthy explains how even Pitt was aware how the movie would have to change to be a legit blockbuster. For instance, while the zombie outbreak begins in China in the book, China was removed from the film, being oh-so-important to the movie industry of late. McCarthy writes:
What could have been an artistically ambitious, multi-perspective look at how modern ideological and religious disarray opened the door for catastrophe has, implausibly but understandably, been reduced to the story of a classic reluctant hero's effort to do what the collective global governments and science geniuses cannot: get to the root of why there are suddenly so many drooling, groaning, jerking and amazingly fast-moving ghouls running around the world interested only in feasting on their former fellow human beings.
Hence, some of the more negative reviews that came out overseas in the last 48 hours (it opened early in the U.K.) conclude that Z is just, well, a little boring, is all. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph used some clever plays on British pronunciation to describe this sensation:
The first problem you encounter with World War Z, the new action blockbuster starring Brad Pitt, is how to pronounce the damn thing. Should the last letter be said "zee", to sound like "three", or "zed", to sound like "dead", or "zzz", to sound like the audience?
So there's nothing exciting here? Well, even in his two-star review for the Daily Mail, Chris Tookey admitted that "the film is most impressive in its big set-pieces. The initial panic on the streets of Philadelphia is thrillingly done, as is the fall of Jerusalem to the zombie horde. There's also an effective airborne sequence."
Then comes the ending. No spoilers here, but clearly — and as told in Laura M. Holson's recent Vanity Fair cover story — the movie had real structural problems. World War Z underwent extensive reshoots, as Damon Lindelof was brought in to rewrite the third act. And guess what? It still falls flat, according to some reviewers. Scott Collura at IGN writes that Pitt's character makes a "dumb" choice and the results of said choice are also "dumb." He continues:
Along the way, much of the logic and "real world" feel of the film go out the window as well. Of course, Star Trek Into Darkness and Prometheus' Damon Lindelof was brought in to help fix the film's ending. It shows.
Collin, however, says that "the Welsh finale, in particular, looks spectacularly cheap." Empire's review says there's an unmistakable allusion at the end to "plans ahoy for further instalments [sic], should there be public appetite." And when it comes to scrounging up enough appetite to recoup $200 million and more than seven years in the making, that's where things might turn, well, dire. For now, a shrug is enough for a second life come the U.S. opening on June 21.