Brad Pitt stars and produces World War Z based on the novel by Max Brooks about a mysterious and fast spreading pandemic that threatens the very existence of mankind. The twist is that this virus turns its victims into zombies who have no other objective but to spread the disease onward. Five additional screenwriters share credit (after the aforementioned rewrites) for bringing this story to the screen, but the film feels relatively seamless. Pitt plays retired UN investigator, Gerry Lane. Once the outbreak occurs, Lane is notified that his assistance is needed and in exchange his family would be given refuge aboard an aircraft carrier isolated and safe from Z infection.
The film does not waste any time getting to the action. The infection arrives immediately and with a 12 second incubation period, the danger and terror are exponentially higher. Furthermore, what also helps World War Z rise above expectations is that unlike many other films of this genre, Lane is on his own and free to navigate the globe as needed. Too often, ‘epidemic’ films put the main character’s family directly into danger causing many of the decisions to be based off of what will keep them safe. With Lane’s family safely aboard a UN aircraft carrier, Lane makes drastically different decisions with his agenda aimed at protecting mankind, not just his wife and kids. Lane travels from Pittsburgh to New Jersey to South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales all in search of the answers to this mysterious world-affecting outbreak. This is exciting stuff!
Director Marc Forster puts together a very intensifying film with a series of very gripping action sequences. While a couple of night sequences are overly dark and disorienting, his use of various point of view shots, hand held camera, and inspired set pieces deliver an electrifying cinematic experience. While a supporting cast exists, this is very much Pitt’s movie. Look out for fast and brief moments from David Morse and Matthew Fox, the latter being such a brief appearance that one can only wonder if his part was severely cut down or if he just jumped in there as a favor to Lost co-creator and Z co-screen writer Damon Lindelof. Nonetheless, Pitt does all of the heavy lifting for this film. This is a Brad Pitt-long hair movie, which can be worrisome (see Troy, Meet Joe Black, or The Devil’s Own if you need proof). It also means it is no-nonsesne Pitt; there will be no Ocean’s 11 charm, Fight Club campiness, or Inglorious Basterds bravado. Here Pitt gets his sacrificial romantic hero locks on but with kick-ass-short-hair Mr. and Mrs. Smith style results.
The only problem World War Z has is the same one that Man of Steel had last week: topical familiarity and saturation. The Zombie genre had a major resurgence over the last decade or so, and World War Z comes to the theaters with a far from fresh concept. Many of the ideas, theories, and plotpoints are reminiscent of things 13 million people saw on The Walking Dead every week. Nonetheless, World War Z accomplishes a bit more of an accessible zombie story in that it is not heavy on the gore. Much of the violence of the film happens off screen or away from the camera, and the film’s most effective scenes are those which are the quietest and most suspenseful. There are also some very interesting scenes early on in the film as the reality of what’s happening begins to wash over the non-infected public. This semi-original take on a familiar genre buys it just enough cache to be considered worth-while and different. B+
World War Z is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes. It is another example of 3-D post conversion, so it was not filmed in 3-D. That coupled with the various dark and shaky scenes forces me to recommend the film be seen in 2-D.