The Plot: Much has been said that the film World War Z bares little, if any, resemblance to the 2006 novel of the same name by Max Brooks, and it’s true. While there are echoes of the book if you squint hard enough, you’re going to be disappointed if you are expecting the story from the book. There’s no Battle of Yonkers, no tales of survival from various vantage points around the world, and even the zombies are different (these are the fast zombies, rather than the shambling zombies from the novel). So, it’s best to divorce yourself of that notion from the beginning, and look at this as a film with a different title — Zombies: World Tour, perhaps.
The action starts quickly in this film. Opening with a family scene with retired United Nations observer Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters. As they start out on a road trip, they get caught in a traffic jam. Inconvenient, until things start to ratchet up, with police rolling through, then people running, screaming and explosions following. We get our first glimpse of the zombies when Gerry does, and notice that it takes about 12 seconds for a victim to turn. With an infection rate that rapid, society falls in a matter of hours (one of the few echoes of the book is a line of dialogue to the effect of “when one of us falls, the enemy’s army grows.”)
In order to get his family to the safety of a navy warship hundreds of miles off the coast — and hundreds of miles from the zombies — Gerry, who has been an observer in some of the worst situations on Earth (up until now), agrees to go back into the field with a scientist who needs to find the root of the infection in order to start to develop a cure. The search takes place in various spots around the world, and shows how different countries have dealt with the pandemic in their own special ways (Israel and North Korea both found effective, if vastly different, ways of survival). The film becomes a “run from the zombies” affair at several points, which really begs for an “R” rated film; PG-13 side steps some of the more visceral scenes purists would want in their zombie flicks.
Taken for what it is, though, World War Z is an effectively creepy zombie film. Your enjoyment of the film may depend on how you like your zombies — slow zombies make for more of the creeping terror/swarm aspect, where fast zombies lean towards more of a frenetic action movie. The later is what we have here, which is appropriate for a summer film. Shambling zombies are probably more a fall-ish, Halloween season flavor. There are nice touches (there’s an effective scene where a character who suspects he might be infected is ready to throw himself off a building if he starts to turn), and the film probably is realistic in how the world would fall apart quickly with a disease of this type (urban areas don’t fare well). At that point, the rules of 2009’s Zombieland are always helpful to keep in mind.
Thoughts on World War Z:
• While it’s a shame that they didn’t make Brooks’ book, there might be hope in the future that it could happen. I think it would really work as a miniseries on SyFy or, more interestingly, HBO. The book, which tells the story of the war against the zombies from a point 10 or so years afterwards, focuses on multiple viewpoints from people all over the world, and what they went through to survive. The Brad Pitt character just a fact-finder (or, more accurately, a plot device to string together the stories). Told in “mockumentary” form, it could be a very good story. Also, as a mini-series, there would be room to fully tell the tale, instead of having to cram it all in two hours.
• Given the fact that the script went through a lot of changes (when you have six writers credited with the script, and the script is based on a novel in the first place, there have been some creative differences along the way), the movie hangs together better than it really should.
• On the zombie taxonomy scale, from the shambling Walking Dead zombies to the 28 Days Later running zombies, the zombies in World War Z are somehow faster than they were when they were alive. Maybe they don’t care that they’re ripping ligaments or something.
• When the decision to throw a grenade on an airplane is the best of your bad options, you know you’re in a zombie film. Also, maybe it’s not a good idea to give a scientist a gun when he has no business holding a gun. Also, put your phone on vibrate when in zombie-infested areas.
• If you’re building high walls outside trying to keep zombies out, and you know zombies are attracted to loud noises, you probably shouldn’t put loud speakers near those walls, and you certainly shouldn’t have someone singing through them. Just sayin’.
• Only Brad Pitt could make typhus look sexy. Or it might have been meningitis. It’s not clear.