Zombie movies have been resolutely B movies, emphasising the gore and, usually, unusually, failing to offer the ‘happy ever after’ ending. Zombies are getting bigger, The Walking Dead (2010-) TV series is the highest rated cable programme in USA, and this Brad Pitt vehicle grossed around $400m worldwide last year. It was critically mauled but audiences loved and I can see why. Of course, if you’re spending nearly $200m on a film then the small scale pleasures of the B movie are going to be marginalised.
One of the many producers of the film is Pitt’s Plan B and while he’s a fairly conventional action hero there are a couple of interesting variants in his character. First he’s a house-husband, we see him at the start looking at the breakfast dishes left for him; second, he’s brought out of retirement by the United Nations, an institution not regularly feted in America. Small things but progressive at least.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film as Marc Forster, and particularly editors Roger Barton and Matt Chesse (I’m not surprised there were two so frenetic is the film’s pace), produce a thrilling narrative. The first half hour, the descent into chaos, is exceptional and the set piece in Jerusalem is equally exciting. Part of the mauling the film received was to do with the plot holes; maybe I’m more sanguine than most regarding a ropey plot where zombies are concerned. It was apparently a troubled production but that didn’t show up on the screen as far as I could tell. How do you escape when zombies start rampaging on an aircraft that’s in flight? Watch the movie to find out.
Pitt’s a superb leading man. His charisma is ‘old school’ but he’s also one of the stars who are happy to work in more ‘arty’ fare, lending his name to projects to get finance. If I were to criticise the film it’s the ‘old school’ representation of gender, notwithstanding Pitt’s character’s domestic status. The only woman who gets much screen time, apart from his children’s mum, is an Israeli soldier and that’s strictly of the ‘helper’ variety.
Zombies belong in B movies but that’s not to say there’s not plenty of pleasure to be found in the A picture that takes the parochial, conventional zombie narrative, and blows it up (literally) to the world. Great Friday night watching.