First clue that this is not your run of the mill zombie gore-fest is that it's directed by Marc Forster, responsible for art-house favourites Monster's Ball and The Kite Runner. The second is that the film is produced by and stars Brad Pitt, who's hardly a purveyor of B-grade genre items. The result is a film more interested in creating tension and drama than providing a gallery of CGI effects.
To this end the film succeeds. The tension is relentless, the plot well-paced and its all propelled by an effective score written by the prolific Marco Beltrami (his second straight zombie film after Warm Bodies) and performed by Muse.
There's nothing new in the script, with plenty of tropes borrowed from disaster movies more than horror. Even so, there's enough well-staged action to keep this ticking over. One air-borne set-piece is a particular stand-out.
It's also a great help that the characters are worthy of emotional investment. Brad Pitt's United Nations' officer is front and centre, but there are other characters who leave lasting impressions. These include Daniella Kertesz as a resilient soldier and Elyes Gabel, reminiscent of a young Jude Law, playing a bright scientist. As is often the case with big budget movies these days, it's a multi-cultural cast that will likely help the film appeal broadly around the world.
The story itself does a fair amount of globe-trotting as the spread of the undead becomes world wide and authorities struggle to find a way to contain and eliminate the epidemic.
Although this is by no means a horror film, the zombies are suitably threatening. Seeing them in their 'dormant' state is especially unsettling and keys into why zombie films appeal to us so much. It's when they resemble humans - unthinking, herd-like humans - that we reflect on the direction our society is going in.
World War Z doesn't attempt to make any overt commentary on this observation, it just shows humanity fighting against the onslaught.
Seeing the final product, it's hard to believe this was a troubled production. Among many delays, the complete third act was re-shot. One can only deduce that this is one occasion of a film being all the better for the challenges set before it.