Most horror fans would rather take an undead bite straight to the junk than see a PG-13 zombie thriller – especially one where the zeds themselves are largely rendered in fast-moving, bloodless CGI and Brad Pitt plays the scruffy savior of humanity. They can pass on this Max Brooks adaptation if they want to, but it’s their loss. It is in no way faithful to the book, but simply takes it’s cue from the idea of “zombie apocalypse on a global scale” and goes in it’s own, well-executed direction.
Brad Pitt plays Gerry, a former UN investigator who, after the zombies hit, gets pulled back in to the mix by his former cohort. they want him to find the source of the infection, and possibly a cure – anything, really – that could turn the tide against the threat of “Zeke.” It does feel like a somewhat slim excuse for a globe-trotting narrative; it results in perhaps one too many close-call plane takeoff sequences, à la Roland Emmerich’s 2012. It does achieve a sense of urgency on a grand scale; the zombie-proof* wall around Jerusalem is certainly a site to behold, as is the commercial plane where it certainly pays to be in first class.
Luckily, the film isn’t just a series of set-pieces. There is a moment early on, during a looting scene in a grocery store, where Gerry shoots and kills a (non-zombie) man trying to assault his wife. The incident is witnessed by a uniformed police officer, who then walks past everyone involved and starts filling a shopping bag with baby food. Later Gerry’s former UN buddy nonchalantly tells him the President is dead, while rattling off a number of other facts, as though it’s a disposable statistic. The film doesn’t dwell on these blink-and-you-miss-them beats, but they give surprising weight to the notion that civilization is collapsing. It’s the kind of thing you wish Emmerich would add to his now-rote destructathons.
The zombies themselves are of the recently-popular “fast” variety. I’ll let the nerds debate the validity of running zombies; all I know is that they have a predatory feel here that I haven’t seen since 28 Days Later. When they get close enough to victims, the hurl themselves bodily forward like human javelins; it’s an alien and terrifying sight. The wide-view shots of the zombie hordes, though rendered in noticeable CGI, have a relentless, insectile look that made my skin crawl. Up close, they are – thank god – played by actors in traditional makeup. All of this is undercut by their relentless shrieking, reminiscent of the velociraptors of Jurassic Park.
World War Z is far from a perfect film; the last act and climax are very tense, but the ending kinda fizzles. The movie feels like it could use another hour to really complete the story. I guess you could call it a back-handed criticism when your biggest complaint is that you want more of something. Man of Steel certainly didn’t have that problem.
*spoiler alert: It’s not.