World War Zombie

Will Brad Pitt (and the UN) save civilization?

Jun. 21, 2013
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 A plague of zombies invades movie theaters once again with the arrival of World War Z, a production that endured its own plague of rewrites and reshoots. Bringing the story to the screen was enough to test the mettle of even a fearless monster killer. The first screenwriter to tackle the project described the movie’s source, Max Brooks’ World War Z bestseller, as reading more like a UN report than a novel.

 Well, pulp fiction has sometimes been the grist for great movies and World War Z works well as a thriller. Brad Pitt is a determined if low-key presence as Gerry Lane, yanked from the suburban slumber of family life and thrust back into his old job as danger zone manager for the World Health Organization, a UN agency seldom lionized in pop culture. Gerry jets across the globe as a kind of medical detective, trying to reverse the zombie onslaught, evidently caused by a weird virus originating in Asia. The pandemic leaps continents, spreading rapidly though the wonders of air travel and global commerce.

 World War Z’s opening evokes memories of 911: a terrible surprise on a sunny workday with traffic-crowded streets, inane morning talk shows and no one paying much attention to all the bad news from faraway. The catastrophe erupts suddenly as Gerry drives his wife (Mireille Enos) and their daughters into the city. For once, the 3D actually adds something, magnifying the odd disorientation of the abrupt chaos on all sides as snarling waves of undead race into the streets, killing with their teeth and adding to their number with every life they take.

 The special effects are also special, especially the startling images of zombies swarming vertically over the security wall surrounding Jerusalem. In World War Z, Israel is the only country prepared for the pandemic (the Israelis are always ready) but even their defense forces can’t hold back the zombies for long. Looks like it’s up to Gerry, who catches a flight from Jerusalem on Belarus Airways (another enterprise seldom referenced in Hollywood movies) bound for Cardiff, Wales, where the World Health Organization maintains a research facility. Maybe the answer is in the lab?

 Some of the plot elements appear a bit weak on scrutiny—no doubt the result of that plague of rewrites and reshoots—but director Marc Forster delivers a thrilling ride that brings you to the edge of the seat and holds you there for the full two hours. It’s not much of a spoiler to close by saying that there will be a sequel (Word War ZZ?) if moviegoers fill enough seats this summer.


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