World War Z

world war z

Tension, not gore, fuels this zowie zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead crowd may be bummed by the relative scarcity of rotting flesh and leaking pustules. But World War Z is still as smart, shifty and scary as a starving zombie ready to chow down on you, baby, you.

Surprised? Me, too. Rumors of reshoots, rewrites and production problems have plagued director Marc Forster’s nearly $200 million film adaptation of the 2006 novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel) since filming began in 2011. Screw the toxic buzz. The addictively exciting World War Z comes ready to rock. It grabs you hard – no mercy.

A dynamite Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations troubleshooter faced with a global zombie invasion. The dead don’t walk, they sprint. You can feel the oozing buggers even when you can’t see them. The opening attack in Philadelphia makes mob panic palpable. Gerry barely escapes with his wife, Karen (Mireille Enos of The Killing), and their two young daughters.

He finds temporary safe harbor on an aircraft carrier, based in the Atlantic and serving as a U.N. command center. There’s a catch: His family can stay only if Gerry goes out into the hot zone in search of answers and maybe a cure.

That’s the movie, following Gerry as he trots the globe. Israel and Korea are surviving better than most, for reasons I won’t spoil. If you want to go deeper, dive into Brooks’ spark plug of a book, subtitled An Oral History of the Zombie War and full of political provocations the film skips in favor of jolts.

What, you expected more from Hollywood? Be grateful that Forster doesn’t screw up like he did with Quantum of Solace. His jolts may be PG-13-safe and thematically disconnected, but that zombie lurch from coach to first-class on a commercial jet is a nerve-fryer. Ditto the finale at a lab in Wales. As producer and star of World War Z, Pitt has pulled a potential disaster from the fire. The suspense is killer.

From The Archives Issue 1186: July 4, 2013