Amazingly, this big-budget, zombie-apocalypse movie reveals little sign of its tumultuous production, which involved storied rewrites, re-shoots, and a six-month postponement of its original release date. World War Z comes across as a smart and ambitious horror movie, a bio-disaster film along the lines of Contagion or 28 Days Later. It’s nail-bitingly tense at times, although these well-executed moments mix with others that are too much of a murky jumble to follow with any precision. (How much of the murk is due to the unnecessary 3-D, which always casts a pall over the screen image, and how much is due to the ineffectual direction of action by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland) is unclear to me from this viewing.) As for the zombies, they are terrifying for the most part, but at times they seem too much like a CGI fiction. I’m OK with World War Z’s zombies being the fast-moving kind, but I don’t understand why they arch their necks and emit cries that sound like a T. rex in pain.
Brad Pitt delivers an unshowy performance as Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator in worldwide trouble spots who has now retired from his life of danger for the merits of home and family. The filmmakers waste no time with character development before delivering the action, which turns out to be a good strategy in the film’s opening moments but injurious later on when we’re in greater need of a rooting interest. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia traffic jam that thrusts the Lane family into sudden zombie mayhem provides a fine introduction to the film and its villains. Gerry is called back into service by his old boss (Mokoena) and is given an ultimatum: His wife and two daughters will receive government protection only if Gerry flies to South Korea in an attempt to find the source of the international infection. The film has just a few primary set-pieces: a military bunker in South Korea that looks like a spectral ghost town, the barricaded city of Jerusalem where zombies rush the wall as if it were Jericho, a W.H.O. research center near Cardiff that houses zombies in lab coats amid its antiseptic walls, an airplane on which snakes would have been a preferred relief from the zombie horde, and a Newark apartment building where the Lane family takes refuge before getting helicoptered out. Pitt is thrust into the classic role of the solitary hero who vanquishes all enemies, but his Gerry Lane still seems an ordinary man who overcomes adversity with his wits rather than his brawn or exceptional physical prowess.
For all the PG-13 bedlam, World War Z seems less about the easy potential for worldwide annihilation than the valorization of the individual family as the core unit that interlocks our universe (witness the film’s concluding freeze frame for evidence). When an epidemiologist remarks that Mother Nature is a serial killer, it seems clear who the real enemy is – and it may require matricide to win the day.
World War Z, Marc Forster, Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Elyes Gabel, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove