The Bite Felt ‘Round the World
World War Z is an enjoyable thriller. Even though it’s a little thin on character and gore, it more than makes up for it with a frighteningly plausible scenario and a realistic tone and feel. Brad Pitt does a fine job, as do most of the cast, save for a couple of way overacted zombies. This globetrotting adventure feels more like a Michael Crichton novel than the Max Brooks novel that serves as it’s source material, but in a roundabout way it still feels surprisingly faithful.
Max Brooks, the author of the popular Zombie Survival Guide, decided to follow up his “how to” for the apocalypse with a collection of short stories from around the globe that cover the entire rise and fall of the undead masses. Reading like a U.N. report on the pandemic, World War Z was a beautifully crafted and intelligent read. Soon, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Studios had secured the rights to the book and began making a filmed version that abandons the short story approach in favor of a more linear plot. The film faced several setbacks, and was forced to do many reshoots and rewrites, but in spite of all the deviations from the source material and the rocky road that led to it’s completion, this film is a tense thriller that is great fun to watch.
The story begins with Gerry Lane and his wife, Karin, and their two daughters Rachel and Connie. They awake on what could have been any day and enjoy a nice family breakfast. Gerry, a former investigator for the U.N., now spends his time as a stay at home dad after the significant stresses involved with such a high profile job took their toll on him and his wife. While the whole family drives through the streets of Philadelphia, a sudden a sweeping virus begins to turn the people of the city into mindless flesh eaters.
Barely escaping the city alive, the Lanes get into contact with Gerry’s old employer to try to find out what’s happening. Gerry is told that he is needed immediately to try and lead an investigation into the cause of the outbreak. Reluctantly agreeing, Gerry must lead his family through hordes of the undead to an extraction point designated by his U.N. superiors, while simultaneously putting together the clues from his firsthand experience with the dead together into a plausible solution.
Brad Pitt is tasked with the burden of carrying a two hour movie that spans the globe, and he succeeds admirably. There’s never been a doubt that he’s a great actor, and this movie is no reason to change that. The writing for his character is a little one dimensional, but he pulls it off somehow, and still lets you feel the zombie apocalypse through his character’s eyes. Almost every character in the film feels as grounded and real as his. Not one case of stereotyping or unnecessary characters rears it’s ugly head.
That said, this movie focuses more on the event on a global scale and less on the personal, so it can feel a little impersonal. You won’t be crying a whole lot, but in the end, that’s not what this movie sets out to do. This movie creates an atmosphere fraught with political tension and scientific deduction, much like a good Michael Crichton novel. The real world implications of a zombie outbreak are presented thoughtfully and thoroughly in a way that’s never detracts from the action on screen, but instead adds an invaluable tether to reality that makes every moment of the film perfectly plausible.
As far as it’s relationship with the source material, World War Z does stray quite a bit from the events on the page. You won’t see the Battle of Yonkers or any other major setpiece from the novel, however, the film does feel like a story that could have happened in the universe that Max Brooks created between his two books. Fans of the book should rejoice. A true to the book adaptation, as cool as it sounds, would have been an extremely tall order.
Going to a three hour film that was nothing but short stories (albeit, short stories that formed a chronological story) would have probably been a messy bore. What we’re given on screen should allay the fears of fans and pique the interest of newcomers. However, this movie certainly isn’t perfect. Aside from the aforementioned lack of character, the movie can feel a little uneven, especially towards the end. The ending itself is a pretty lackluster and disappointing conclusion to a great thrill ride, and it makes clear the intent to turn this into a WWZ trilogy.
Aside from it’s few flaws, World War Z is the surprise hit of the summer. With great performances, a thrilling plot, tons of zombified action, and a semi faithful adaptation of Max Brooks’ beloved epic, this and Star Trek Into Darkness have become the blockbusters to beat this year.