Other than the fact it's a not-especially-gory PG-rated zombie movie, the most objectionable thing about World War Z is its title.
This Brad Pitt vehicle is supposedly an adaptation of the Max Brooks novel of the same name. But the only real holdover from the book is the premise of a global zombie apocalypse, which also happens to be the premise of about a thousand other movies.
What made the book special is the way Brooks seriously and meticulously extrapolates on the unlikely zombie premise as first laid down in the films of George Romero. What would be the proper military response to a zombie plague after a series of devastating defeats? If zombies couldn't drown, what impact would they have on bodies of water? How would different countries and cultures react differently to a common menace?
Brooks' book, modelled after Studs Terkel's Second World War oral history The Good War, is structured as interviews with dozens of survivors of the pandemic. It delights not just for its zombie-wonk detail and its surprising sophistication, but because it runs counter to the Hollywood clich© in which the fate of the globe rests on a single man or woman.
Director Marc Forster, who last nearly hobbled the freshly reinvented James Bond franchise (Quantum of Solace), teams with screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof to collectively reduce the property to its inevitable solitary hero template.
A more accurate title for the film might be: Brad Pitt vs. the Zombie Holocaust.
That said, Brad Pitt vs. the Zombie Holocaust isn't actually a bad movie, despite the pre-release buzz about production difficulties and emergency rewrites.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator happily ensconced in his role as a family man with a lovely wife (Mireille Enos of TV's The Killing) and a couple of adorable kids.
But on the morning drive to school, everything changes when undead storm the New York streets, forcing Gerry to take his brood to the safety of a government emergency installation. Though unwilling to return to his UN gig, Gerry is compelled to sign on to find the source of the contagion in the hopes of discovering some kind of cure. The mission takes him to far-flung locations in South Korea, Israel and Wales, where he manages to piece together clues that may help endangered humanity respond to the crisis and turn the tide.
The word "tide" might be taken literally when it comes to zombies. The movie liberally lifts inspirations from other sources such as The Walking Dead (emergency amputations to stem zombification) and 28 Days Later (almost instant zombification due to bite infection), but the one novelty it brings to the mix is zombie swarming. Zombies (the logical product of unfettered consumerism) flocked to the mall in Dawn of the Dead. Here, they can crawl over each other like soldier ants at the prospect of fresh human meat. That and a harrowing zombies-on-an-airplane sequence makes for an impressive new zombie wrinkle in an otherwise familiar sub-genre entry.
I, for one, hold out the hope that a more faithful adaptation of World War Z gets produced. I see a 12-part pseudo-doc on HBO, with no one single movie star.
Oh, and also gore. It's a zombie story, for goodness sake.
Forster moves the action forward deftly scene by scene, yet the movie ends up feeling sprawling and empty, a "zombies invaded the world and all I got was a lousy T-shirt" enterprise. In fact, World War Z may be an object lesson in the importance of paying attention to small-scale filmmaking within the framework of big-budget wizardry. Because in the end, all that matters in World War Z is Brad Pitt.
-- Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice
Waves of startling action counterbalance standard one-man-saves-the-day Hollywood heroics in World War Z, an immersive apocalyptic spectacle that tosses the viewer into the deep end of a global zombie uprising and doesn't let up until close to the end.
-- Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Robustly mounted, magnificently photographed and bone-crunchingly terrifying, World War Z towers above every other alleged summer blockbuster. It's the real deal.
-- Rex Reed, New York Observer
It's just a jumped-up midnight movie that thinks "stuff jumping out at you and making loud noises" equals horror and "perfect human being impervious to everything" equals hero.
-- Kyle Smith, New York Post