Zombies have long dominated horror movies, but as their popularity has exploded they have begun to branch out into other genres like comedy (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland”) and even romance (“Warm Bodies”).
The undead has now shambled their way into an action movie with “World War Z” and the results are actually better than they probably should be. In fact, if you read the tea leaves this movie had all the makings of a colossal Hollywood blunder.
Behold the dire omens: First of all, the screenplay was adapted from Max Brooks’ (son of Mel!) very good, but un-filmable novel that lacked a central character or plotline. Next, four different writers took a pass at the screenplay at various stages of production. Lastly, the movie was over budget and delayed for extensive reshoots.
The only way this movie could have any more going against it was if they renamed it “John Carter Goes to Ishtar.”
Fortunately, there were two sets of steady hands at the helm of this potential train wreck in the form of director Marc Forster and star Brad Pitt, and together they brought a passably solid and entertaining summer movie into the station.
At its core “World War Z” isn’t really a zombie movie, but is instead a fairly standard disaster flick where reanimated corpses stand in for any asteroids, volcanoes, or alien invaders that typically threaten humanity in films like this.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former U.N. envoy who has given up his globetrotting lifestyle to spend more time at home with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove).
He gets called back into action by his former bosses when the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and it breaks out fast; sending the entire East Coast into chaos in the course of a single afternoon.
The Lanes eventually find themselves in relative safety on board a fleet of warships in the middle of the Atlantic. Gerry is tasked with discovering the source of the zombie outbreak and to see if there is any hope of finding a cure.
He then heads off on a global search from South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales and encountering hordes of supercharged, running, and leaping zombies at every turn.
Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland”) isn’t really known for directing action movies with the exception of “Quantum of Solace,” which will be forever remembered as the lousy Daniel Craig “Bond” movie that wasn’t “Casino Royale” or “Skyfall.”
He does a terrific job here of constructing action set pieces that are taut, lively and compelling. He probably could have lost one or two though as “World War Z” tends to feel a little long.
Tying this all together is Pitt whose steady, determined performance helps ground this ridiculous movie and give it an air of credibility it would otherwise be desperately clawing for.
Fans of Brooks’ novel will find only the scantest traces of source material in the movie as the only thing that really survives is the book’s worldview.
Most zombie tales take a fairly libertarian bent as a small group of survivors are left to their own devices to fend for themselves and are often forced to dispatch other survivors. “World War Z” is the only zombie fiction I’ve come across that confronts zombie apocalypse from the socialist end of the political spectrum as it is governmental policies and international cooperation that eventually save the day.
The movie version of “World War Z” isn’t quite that interested in exploring political philosophies, at least not while there is bloodless, PG-13 zombie action to pack on the screen. Horror fans might be disappointed at the lack of splatter as five minutes of “The Walking Dead” features more gore and viscera than the entirety of “World War Z.”
Even still, this is a tense, enjoyable movie that is clearly setting itself up for a franchise. I believe there is promise in the eventual sequels to live up to the title as the war has been pretty one-sided so far and it would be nice to see humans get some shots in.
Either way, we now have proof that zombies can handle action movies – let’s just hope they don’t get cocky and try musicals.
“World War Z” is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence, and disturbing images.