By Preston Wilder
Cyprus nearly makes it into World War Z, a globe-trotting zombie movie that starts in America but, refreshingly, doesn’t stay there (having a Swiss director probably helps). We get so close it’s downright exasperating. Brad Pitt and his crew are in Israel, a fortified haven that’s suddenly overrun by zombies, meaning our heroes must get out asap. ‘Where shall we go?’ they wail as they climb aboard the last flight out of Jerusalem Airport. They look at a map, point to their next destination – and there, in screen-filling close-up, is the unmistakable outline of our fair little island.
No-one actually says ‘Let’s go to Cyprus’, but the intention is clear. Why waste a shot on a close-up of a country unless it’s going to feature in the plot? Even more impressively, the island on the map is never identified; clearly, director Marc Forster believes that a glimpse of the familiar pan shape with the handle of the Karpas Peninsula will be enough to scream ‘Cyprus!’ in the minds of the global audience. Then again, maybe it’s never identified because it turns out to be irrelevant. Brad and his friends go to Wales instead – Wales! of all places! – the world is (more or less) saved from zombies, and our shot at fame comes to nothing.
At least we can console ourselves with the implication that Cyprus is safe and zombie-free, or at least that it’s handling the zombie crisis better than it handled the economic crisis. This is no mean feat, because zombies are everywhere in World War Z: they attack with shocking suddenness, leaping in from nowhere as Brad and his family are stuck in a traffic jam, and the next thing we know 3 billion people are infected. We know this because there’s a counter in the operations room where the US Army is battling the crisis, racking up infections beneath a map of the world and already reaching 3 billion as Brad walks in. It’s not clear how the Army is getting instant information from every single country in the world – drones? Prism? ESP? – then again quite a few things aren’t clear in World War Z, despite its roots in a bestselling horror novel.
It’s not clear how the zombie pandemic would be solved by the few remaining humans stumbling around with crippling, life-threatening diseases (saying more would spoil it). It’s not clear why Israel – one of the world’s most paranoid nations – is described as a place so trusting and gullible that they need to create a special tactic (“the Tenth Man”) to counter their tendency to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. It’s also not clear why Brad – one of a handful of people whisked to safety by the US government – initially refuses to help because he used to work for the government (actually the UN) and didn’t like it. Remember what your old job did to you, warns his wife (Mireille Enos, in a thankless role). I’m devoted to my family now, says Brad to the higher-ups, I can’t help you. This is all very touching – but surely, with the world coming to an end, he can take a short break from canoodling with Mireille and comforting his asthmatic daughter, and go kill some zombies?
Oh, and speaking of zombies … I shouldn’t go on about this, since the genre’s changed so much in recent years – but zombies aren’t as interesting as they were back in the day, especially the days of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Those zombies were like Death itself, shuffling towards you slowly but inescapably (they also had a socio-political symbolism, which is gone now). Zombies nowadays are lightning-fast – they even rush the camera for a couple of in-your-face ‘boo!’ moments – meaning they’re just ordinary monsters, even if World War Z adds a couple of quirks (they’re drawn to sound, and twitch epileptically when in ‘dormant’ mode). Even the most poignant aspect – waiting for a friend to ‘turn’ after being bitten – has been diluted here, since it only takes 12 seconds for the transformation to happen.
So why the 3-star rating? Because the film delivers. It’s consistently not-great, yet it’s entertaining; I watched it with a packed house, and everyone seemed to have a good time. David Morse turns up as a deranged CIA man in South Korea, claiming that the North Korean leadership defeated the zombie plague by forcibly extracting the teeth of every single North Korean (no teeth, no biting). Our heroes wonder whether to use an axe or a baseball bat (“Each has its merits”). Zombies form a pyramid in Israel, get sucked out of a plane after Brad throws a hand grenade, and take over a WHO facility in Cardiff. All that’s missing is a starring role for Cyprus – but at least we get a cameo. So near, and yet so far.
DIRECTED BY Marc Forster
STARRING Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
US 2013 116 mins