Further global annihilation awaits audiences this weekend in the form of World War Z, a massively expensive summer tentpole picture geared toward action-seekers and zombie fanatics, though it’s likely to please one of those crowds more than the other. The film is based on a novel by Max Brooks of which I conquered a mountainous six pages. That’s not to the novel’s detriment. I merely put it down and never picked it back up.
No matter. The screenplay divided up by three writers apparently ditched the source material and instead journeys with Gerry Lane played capably by superstar Brad Pitt. Gerry has one of those professions never fully explained, but he is recruited out of retirement by the United Nations on a global quest to track down the origins of a zombie virus that has catapulted the planet into chaos.
The film opens with Gerry and his family—wife and two young daughters—traveling in the car when the outbreak hits. Cars slam into each other. Crowds flee in the streets. Hordes of rabid human undead attack civilians on the run and spread the pandemic. Within seconds, humans are fed on and turned to monstrous, speedy, lethal cannibals.
Gerry is offered a secure naval base shelter for his family in exchange for his efforts to track the down the spread of the virus. He joins a military strike force and globe-trots from the U.S. to South Korea to Jerusalem in search for answers that might allow him to find a cure for the spreading contagion.
Unfortunately for World War Z, the film has arrived following a wave of negative buzz after its production budget ballooned to unfathomable proportions for this type of zombie apocalypse thriller. A third act rewrite and reshoot didn’t help matters especially when rumors spread that Brad Pitt quit talking to the director, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher), and threatened to walk out on the film. Consider all the rumors hearsay. What we finally have onscreen is pure unrelenting entertainment from start to finish, a film that easily outguns and KO’s all alien superheroes and fast car lovers.
World War Z is a superb suspense-thriller and manages to succeed against all odds even for a PG-13 zombie film. Whether Forster, his editors, or his writers pulled off the magic required or blind luck intervened, this was not the choppy moviegoing experience I was expecting. The computer-generated mounds of zombies featured in the trailers raised I Am Legend-sized visual doubts, but actually turn out to be quite freaky physical specimens, which are (in individual cases) actually human actors sporting incredible makeup and prosthetic enhancements sans much of the gore fans have become accustomed to.
Believe me when I say the lack of blood never once hinders the film from its storytelling ambitions, nor from rampant intensity and scares. There are plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Several sequences mount tingling suspense. The filmmakers have flat-out created a well-structured thriller that flows neatly across continents from start to finish atop Brad Pitt’s shoulders. Its his show and he does create a genuine character that the audience can root for as he struggles to return to his family and save the world.
At a tight 2 hour running time, World War Z delivers the goods and winds up a fine summer blockbuster filled with big action, big thrills, and the kind of suspense this season has been lacking. Despite the lack of blood, the movie has plenty of guts, and it knows how to turn up the intensity to eleven. Skip the 3D conversion and forget about a faithful adaptation to novel. If you can do so I’m betting you’ll eat it up.