World War Z is a film adaptation of Max Brooks' novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, that has been seven years in the making. This week, after numerous production problems, a budget that swelled to a reported $400 million, and incredibly high expectations, Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures are set to release the most expensive movie ever filmed. You should probably go see it.
In the beginning of World War Z, you're introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos). If Pitt's badass haircut didn't already give it away, you soon learn that Gerry's not just a regular dad who plays Angry Birds eight months after Angry Birds is over. Sure, he makes corny jokes while cooking breakfast and watching CBS3's Katie Fehlinger for the weather, but talks of his "old job" inform the audience that Gerry Lane is probably closer to Bryan Mills than Al Bundy.
When they're stuck in traffic in downtown Philadelphia (read: Glasgow made to appear like Philadelphia), sirens and explosions and screaming pedestrians tingle Gerry's spidey senses. His badassery is emphasized when he springs into action, leading his family to (relative) safety outside city limits while simultaneously making mental notes about what's happening to those falling victim to the undead, like when he counts-off how long the zombie tranformation takes to set it.
He gets a call from one of his old government buddies who assures him that he and his family will be rescued via helicopter, so long as he agrees to come back to the career he'd given up long before. *Insert Murtaugh joke here*
So, Lane and his family are on their own for the rest of the first, terrifying night of the zombie apocalypse. They traipse through Jersey, scavenging for supplies at a grocery store and seeking refuge with a Spanish-speaking family in a high-rise apartment in Newark.
In these moments, Pitt is ever convincing as Lane. His interaction with his family and, particularly, with Tomas, the little boy in the apartment, pull you in. He truly makes you feel as though protecting his wife and daughters (and the stranger family) from zombies is just another thing he's willing and able to do. It's like he's stopping for milk on the way home from work, except he needs a barricade and a bayonet to do it. More than that, though, Pitt's abilities seem to make the cast around him better. So much so that the family's dynamic and concern are palpable. It's almost as if you're a family friend along for a ride with them on the sh***iest road trip through Jersey that's ever been.
In an early, emotional scene, Gerry believes he may have been infected while fighting off the undead as his family attempted to escape to the helicopter on the roof of the Newark apartment building. As his family hustles toward the awaiting chopper, Gerry hurries to the ledge of the building, counting off his Mississippis, ready to jump to his death if he starts to turn into a "zeke."
Similarly, World War Z rushes up to the ledge, threatening to jump off and devolve into a full-fledged, feature-length Walking Dead copycat. But, instead, it takes a deep breath, counts off its Mississippis and steps down into the realm of a more traditional disaster movie.
Director Marc Forster trades the typical zombie imagery of intestinal dinners and gory half-corpses dragging organs around the streets for chase scenes with quick cuts (what's up, Jason Bourne?), helicopter crashes (Black Hawk down! Black Hawk down!), and grenade explosions. This can probably be attributed to that massive budget and the subsequent need for a PG-13 rating (thanks for everything, teenagers). Instead of focusing on the gruesome nature of zombies, Forster and company highlight the chaos that comes with any major disaster, almost as though there's a zombie apocalypse scheduled for the Day After Tomorrow.
The remainder of the film narrows in on the government organization in response to the zombie apocalypse and Lane's quest to find Patient Zero. He travels the globe watching zombies attack, surveying how some countries are surviving more effectively than others, and searching for clues as to how humanity can put a stop to the carnage and begin the rebuilding process.
World War Z is more Tim Burton's Batman than it is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, right down to the chattering teeth of the infected. It's lighter than you might expect (especially if you've read the book), but keeps you gripping your armrest throughout. The movie turns out to be a quality popcorn flick with a behemoth price tag and some zombie flare, rather than the zombie flick lined with sharp social commentary that most zombie nerds were probably hoping for.
On a scale of Redneck Zombies to Night of the Living Dead, World War Z is a respectable 7.