Early reviews for "World War Z" are pouring in like a mass of rolling zombies, and rather surprisingly they don't herald the cinematic apocalypse we were all kind of expecting.
"World War Z," based on Max Brooks' novel that serves as "An Oral History of the Zombie War," has been a publicly troubled production, as last year around this time Paramount made the announcement that the film would undergo seven weeks of reshoots, pushing the film's planned release date of Winter 2012 to Summer 2013. Reshoots are certainly common for studio blockbusters, but in the case of films such as "Marvel's The Avengers" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2," they were usually only for one to two weeks. One could shoot, like, three indie films in the amount of time that "WWZ" needed back in front of the cameras.
News of the extensive reshoots also made everyone recall director Marc Forster's track record with big studio films. He does well with small intimate dramas like "Monster's Ball," weirdo thrillers like "Stay," and experimental comedies like "Stranger Than Fiction," but his 007 outing, "Quantum of Solace," was quite a mess – so much so that it may tricked people into thinking its follow-up, Sam Mendes' "Skyfall," was better than it actually was. Rumors were flying about how "World War Z" was perhaps just too big a beast for Forster, even with an A-list producer/star like Brad Pitt keeping tabs on him.
The trailers for "World War Z" were fine if a bit underwhelming, the most notable thing about them perhaps being the revelation that the film apparently had little to nothing to do with the source novel. But hey, no big deal – that applies to some "Harry Potter" movies, too (riiiiight?).
Add Paramount throwing the film into theaters a mere week after "Man of Steel" and all signs seemed to point to "World War Z" becoming one of the summer's biggest critical and commercial failures. That first part, however, appears to not be the case.
"For all its negative pre-release publicity, this is a surprisingly smart, gripping and imaginative addition to the zombie-movie canon," writes Scott Foundas of Variety, who also says this "sleekly crafted, often nail-biting tale of global zombiepocalypse clicks on both visceral and emotional levels" and shows "few visible signs of the massive rewrites, reshoots and other post-production patchwork."
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter calls it "an immersive apocalyptic spectacle" filled with a "bunch of impressive set pieces" that "should ride Brad Pitt's name, teeming action scenes and widespread interest in all things zombie to strong box office returns, particularly internationally." McCarthy is especially impressed with the sequence depicting the siege of Jerusalem, which is "unquestionably the great set piece of the film."
"Surprisingly, the film works," writes Andy Lea at the Daily Star, praising the film as "a spectacular summer blockbuster" and that "some of the action scenes are the most breathtaking and ... intense [that] I've ever seen in a zombie flick."
Paul M. Bradshaw of Total Film is particularly taken with the sheer size of the film. "Choosing quantity over quality, intensity over tension and big-screen thrills over low-fi shocks – this is probably what the zombie apocalypse will actually look like," he writes. Bradshaw also says that director Forster "does fast and furious perfectly" and that "there's never been a more impressive horde of flesh-eaters on the big screen."
"It's a total rush," writes Stella Papamichael at Digital Spy, noting that "everything about the film moves at a breakneck pace, including the zombies." Papamichael too praises Forster's work, saying he "marshals the chaos with flair and grit, whether the camera is down on the ground being carried by the crowd, or up in the air to behold the scale of the destruction."
For all its unexpected strengths, "World War Z" certainly isn't without its flaws, too. In fact, some critics find that its gargantuan scope works against it, with Robbie Collin at The Telegraph calling the film "a collection of moderately violent action set-pieces untroubled by humour or broader coherence." Incoherence actually seems to be the main problem, as director Forster "has done his best to piece together a story from these incompatible parts, but the final product has an elaborate uselessness about it, like a broken teapot glued back together with the missing pieces replaced by parts of a vacuum cleaner."
Another element perhaps working against the film is that zombies might now be the most over-exposed and overused of movie monsters, and that "it requires something really innovative to fully justify spending a lot of money to re-enter the world of the undead," according to Stefan Pape at Hey U Guys. "World War Z" certainly "has its moments," but ultimately "it's just not quite creative or original enough."
Fair enough, especially considering that "World War Z" could've – and, really, should've – been a lot worse. Instead, it looks like we have one of Summer 2013's first official smarty-pants, super-serious, and perhaps even socially relevant blockbusters ... and underdogs.