It's Brad Pitt versus the 'zombie apocalypse' in Marc Forster's 'World War Z,' which took its name from Max Brook's masterpiece of pseudo non-fiction, an oral history and geopolitical analysis of the worldwide zombie war told from the perspective of a member of the UN Postwar Commission (Brooks himself) who traveled around the world collecting first-hand accounts from survivors a decade after the global cataclysmic event. The movie's production problems are well documented, which resulted in a major shift in its narrative format, not to mention script rewrites and numerous reshoots which ballooned its budget to around $200 million.
While Brooks's narrative structure comprised of a series of snapshots of the zombie apocalypse from key participants at various points of the world, the movie took a more linear approach by focusing solely on the journey and experiences of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN 'hot-spot' investigator reluctantly called out of retirement to investigate the cause of the global pandemic. If you drop the conceit that the movie is a faithful adaptation of Max Brooks's novel and see it for what it actually is, which is a movie loosely based on the book, or a movie that's only 'inspired' by the book, you might enjoy it a little bit more.
Brad Pitt is in fine form here, grounding the movie with a sympathetic and believable protagonist battling to save his family and, by extension, the rest of the human race. And as Segen, a young Israeli soldier who crossed path with Pitt's character through a confluence of unfortunate events, newcomer Daniella Kertesz reminded me of a spunky young Lori Petty (aka Tank Girl) with her rebellious, feisty 'don't mess with me' post-punk feminism.
Tight, well-paced and riveting, WWZ worked for me because, despite its obvious detour from its source material, it truly captured what a global zombie pandemic would be like. The panic, chaos and sheer pandemonium as the hordes of zombies bear down on their prey have great urgency and feel authentic. While previous movies like '28 Weeks Later' and 'The Dead' tried to capture the feel of a worldwide zombie-virus outbreak, WWZ blew them away with its sheer size and scope. WWZ is truly epic. Such set piece scenes of zombies breaching Israel's 100-foot walls by instinctively building 'pyramids' and flowing over an overturned bus like tidewater leave an indelible image in my mind. Then there are the inadvertent stupid mistakes with tragic consequences, like what happened when a young optimistic Harvard virologist stepped off the plane on a dark rain-slicked airbase in S. Korea, or how an uplifting act of solidarity and brotherhood via singing in Israel can lead to catastrophe.
The movie is also vindicated, in this reviewer's mind, by combining the zombie genre with the virus outbreak genre (two of my favorites). The final act of the movie set at a WHO lab facility in the UK is more reminiscent of movies like Michael Crichton's 'The Andromeda Strain' and Steven Soderbergh's 'Contagion,' as Gerry Lane desperately tries to 'run the gauntlet' in one of the building's zombie-infested levels to obtain what he needs. It also turned out to be the most suspenseful part of the movie, reminding me of that nail-biting scene in Steven Spielberg's 'Jurassic Park' when the two kids were trying hard not to serve the velociraptors their dinner.