World War Z
Starring Brad Pitt & Mireille Enos
Directed by Marc Forster
PG-13, 116 min.
Released June 21, 2013
The Z is for zombies…but could also represent the zillions of bucks that went into making this extravagantly expensive star vehicle for co-producer Brad Pitt as a global humanitarian racing to save the planet from annihilation by the undead.
In “World War Z,” Pitt is Gerry Lane, a former United Nations international crisis specialist called back into action when a fast-acting pandemic begins turning humans worldwide into rabid, raging carnivores. Within hours, entire cities have fallen as the teeming, rampaging living dead overwhelm the living still.
Gerry, now a devoted “househusband” and father, must worry not only about saving a world quickly descending into darkness and chaos, but also about the safety of his wife (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters.
People seem to never lose their appetite for zombies. Based on a 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks, the son of comedic movie director Mel Brooks, “World War Z” comes to audiences primed by the success of the current AMC-TV series “The Walking Dead” and a steady pop-cultural stream of movies about cannibalistic corpses.
But this project’s massive $200 million mega-budget puts it in class all by itself. For one thing, it’s got Pitt, one of the biggest stars on the planet; never has there been a hunkier, higher-paid zombie hunter. For another, a lot of that money shows up on the screen in some spectacular special-effect segments: The destruction of major global cities doesn’t come cheap. And director Marc Forster, who steered the 2008 James Bond outing “Quantum of Solace,” sets up several other stunning set pieces as his zombies bring down a helicopter trying to take off, overturn a bus, mob an airplane and climb up a sheer wall like a pyramid of ravenous rats.
But balancing the spectacle, much of the movie’s emotional impact comes in the smaller moments between Pitt’s character and his family. He may be fighting for everyone, but his intimate connection to his loved ones humanizes his epic efforts as he races from America to South Korea, Israel, Wales and Nova Scotia in search of answers.
All that running around, however, seems to go nowhere—at least nowhere many zombie-movie fans will really want to go. For a flick about a zombie apocalypse, there are a lot more scenes without zombies than scenes with zombies. And the PG-13 rating sanitizes out the blood, guts and gross-out gore that’s a signature of the genre—the very thing a lot of fans will want to see.
And it’s never a good thing for a “serious” zombie movie when the audience giggles at your zombies, as the audience did at the screening I attended, repeatedly, during scenes obviously not intended to be funny.
The opening montage depicts the words of the title slowly coming together from pieces of what look like broken shards of glass. That’s an interesting choice for a movie whose production was widely reported as being fractured and fraught with trouble long before it made its way to the big screen—beset with dissention between top members of its production team, grossly over budget and behind schedule, and requiring costly, last-minute rewrites and reshoots.
“World War Z” has some effective, genuinely scari-fying moments, but too often it comes across as the bloated, overwrought affair it must have been on the production side, a sprawling affair too big and messy for any one movie to contain. The fact that actor Matthew Fox, from TV’s “Lost,” is credited for his nanosecond of screen time (even knowing that he’s in the movie, you’ll still have trouble spotting him) suggests that he was cast in a role that was originally more significant, but later chopped down to near invisibility.
“Daddy’s gotta go to work,” Pitt’s character says as he kisses his youngest daughter goodbye and prepares to head off to battle. Now that his job’s finished, this movie’s global hero is hoping everybody else springs into action and helps recover some of those mega millions he scattered all over the world.