Neither the calamity that its troubled production might have led you to expect, nor the triumph that its $250 million price-tag should lead you to demand, World War Zed offers a number of delights. This is a globalised disaster movie, told not from the perspective of bedraggled survivors who end up turning on each other in a desperate fight over dwindling supplies (the genre template laid down by Romero, and canonised most recently in The Walking Dead comics and TV series), but through the lens of a UN-led operation to find a solution to the zombie pandemic sweeping the planet. This omniscient overview sometimes dilutes what should be a terrifying vision of a world falling apart, because it gives an unwarranted sense of control over events, and the film plays out in a doggedly linear hop from one country to the next along a thread of tangential clues.
Brad Pitt’s unshakeable calm and obstructive handsomeness do little to offset this comforting structure, but where the film scores is in its depiction of the zombie hordes as a hive-minded superorganism, belting through streets and over vehicles like a wave of cannibalistic parkour enthusiasts. The Fall of Jerusalem sequence is particularly striking for its depiction of panic and terror as a contagious gale of biting madness. These moments of unsettling mass rage represent an original contribution to the zombie genre’s ongoing interrogation of the stupidity of crowds, the destructiveness of conformity, the selfishness of unity with the mob.This means that the final scenes, stalking through corridors at a WHO laboratory near Cardiff become smaller in scale, more familiar in mood, and less thrilling as a result. And even as I appreciated the film’s least foreseen feature – its absolute tidiness – I wished for a more substantial, modern investigation of what a zombie apocalypse might mean to a global audience so frequently reminded of (and titillated by) the prospect of its own annihilation by natural or ideological forces. WWZ teases with the potential it showed for a much-needed new angle in a summer of Hollywood blockbusters obsessed with armageddon.