There’s nothing new in World War Z, the reportedly troubled movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie apocalypse novel, transformed here into a rousing action picture that plays like a mash up of 28 Days Later and Contagion. Yet capably directed by Marc Forster and with an appealing turn by producer/star Brad Pitt, it’s a taut, frequently exciting and well acted summer movie, better than Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel combined
No doubt having the dependable Pitt at the helm helped steer Brooks’ episodic novel—a series of personal recollections of the epidemic—into the streamlined and at-times intelligent film it is, a movie that makes up for in action set-pieces what it lacks in characterization, a mix that should make it a major crowd pleaser.
Gerry Lane (Pitt) is a former UN investigator turned stay-at-home Philadelphia dad enjoys a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with a lovely wife (Mirelle Enos) and daughters while the television news sends ominous warnings about a global pandemic giving rise to deadly zombies. En route through downtown morning traffic, the family meets this horror head on as an outbreak leads to explosions, death and infection. The pace is quick, the violence intense and the panic palpable right up to a terrifying looting sequence in Newark, where the family has fled before being helicoptered to the safety of an aircraft carrier, UN safe haven for the “useful,” and Lane is soon coerced into helping stop the infection, leaving wife and daughters in what he thinks will be a safe haven.
The news gets worse and then even worse. The president has been killed. The crisis escalates with no end is sight. Like a travelogue of hysteria, the movie globetrots from the site of patient zero in North Korea to Budapest to a spectacular sequence set in Jerusalem where the film’s most special effect—digital hordes of ant-like undead scaling a retaining wall—thrills, introducing an neat supporting character, tough Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz), herself nearly infected before teaming up with Pitt en route to WHO headquarters in Wales to find a cure. The pair survive an action sequence involving a plane crash that is a real kick, superbly ratcheted suspense and large-scale effects, before taking on a horde of doctors turned zombies (the sequence has a great, early Cronenberg vibe) where the truly special sound design—including crushing glass underfoot and a rolling Pepsi can—are the star of the show.
The film’s original final third—apparently a large-scale battle as du jour for blockbusters these days—was jettisoned in favor of the WHO sequence, which address a potential resolution for the epidemic buried within the world’s most deadly viruses which may or may not hold the key. It works, if it doesn’t exactly wow, and Pitt is compelling throughout in a somewhat underwritten role running hot on the fumes of his star wattage, which is considerable.
Say what you will about the adaptation, which significantly alters the structure of Brooks’ novel, but it is undeniably exciting despite the unnecessary 3D (the second picture this summer after Man of Steel where 3D is superfluous and serves only to dim the image). For a movie where high profile warring between Pitt and Forster made headlines that some suggested would doom the film’s success worse than its onscreen apocalypse, World War Z is solidly entertaining.