Zombie movies have been around for almost as long as the medium itself, but it wasn’t until George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead that they started to go relatively mainstream. Still, they’ve mostly been the province of B-movies or horrors, with the occasional comedy thrown in, like Warm Bodies earlier this year.
So to have the subject matter be treated as an action drama, as it mostly is in World War Z, is rare, if not unprecedented. It follows former U.N. employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), who gets sucked back into duty as a professional fixer after a mysterious viral outbreak that reanimates the dead spreads throughout the globe.
Pitt is great in the lead role, as long as you’re able to ignore him looking like Brad Pitt, the movie star with flowing hair.
Director Marc Forster and the trio of screenwriters barely give the audience a chance to settle into their seats before unleashing wave after wave of zombies. In so doing, the tension is palpable right from minute one, and it almost never takes a break for the rest of the two-hour running time.
But the focus is not really on the zombies, in that no individual attack is given that much more precedence over another. Rather, the question over how a virus like that could spread so far so quickly is at the forefront, with Gerry serving as the means to discovery.
Most movie zombies have been depicted as slow-moving and lumbering, so the fact that the living dead in this film move with great speed and agility is a tad shocking. But unless you’re a purist who takes change as sacrilege, the newfound quickness serves the movie well, upping the anxiety level considerably.
The film does take more than a few leaps of logic, most notably in the way Gerry is able to globetrot with relative ease. We’re led to believe that almost the entire world has gone to hell in a handbasket overnight, so the deference with which Gerry is treated no matter where he goes and how he’s able to find many different means of transportation takes a bit of suspension of disbelief.
But if you’re willing to go along for the ride, the film delivers a number of stellar set-pieces, including the opening attack, a visit to a military base in South Korea, and an ultra-tense journey inside a research lab in Wales. They’re aided by the idea that the zombies attack based on sound, so any tiny fluctuation ratchets up the fear level.
Pitt is great in the lead role, as long as you’re able to ignore him looking like Brad Pitt, the movie star with flowing hair, as opposed to Brad Pitt, the actor who disappears inside a role. The set-up of the film doesn’t allow many other actors to be highlighted, but a few, like James Badge Dale and Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz, do stand out.
World War Z isn’t perfect, but it does treat the downfall of most of civilization with the gravity it deserves, something other blockbusters this year have whiffed at. It’s a weighty drama disguised as a summer tentpole movie, making for a nice change of pace.