“Movement is life.”
Max Brooks’s book is not a zombie book. It’s a window into the global political and military workings in the face of an apocalyptic pandemic. Likewise, “World War Z” is not a zombie film. It’s the story of a virus, and the people who work against the clock to combat that virus before humanity falls. It’s not a horror movie, and it won’t sate your cravings for blood and gore. It will entertain, however, and maybe even get you thinking globally.
“World War Z” focuses on Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator, brought back into the fold in the wake of a worldwide zombie plague. After being evacuated onto a ship full of high-priority officials and military personnel, Lane is recruited to investigate the source of the virus. Armed with a plane, a virologist, and a handful of Marines, Lane’s investigation takes him across the globe. Every destination leads to new questions and mounting dangers. It’s a twist on your average zombie story in that it plays on a global scale, instead of the usual small town, or shopping mall.
“We all read the same memo. And it said ‘zombie’.”
“World War Z” sets itself apart in a few ways. One, the scale is global and we see multiple countries dealing with the zombies in different ways. Second, the characters have actually heard of zombies before. This isn’t another world where “Night of the Living Dead” never existed. The final point is both a strength and a weakness; there’s almost no violence. I’m not a gore-hound, but these are zombies! We get no bloody bites, or feeding frenzies. Instead of showing bite after bite, we simply see the horde of zombies growing larger, and more ferocious. We see it spreading like a plague, like an oil spill. It’s an interesting take, and the filmmakers succeed in what they were obviously going for.
Pitt’s star power helps carry the film through a few slow sections, but for the most part it carries itself. The writing is smart, the action is intense. There’s much reliance on coincidences and sheer luck- Pitt spots multiple game-changing clues whilst running from hordes of zombies, and it gets a bit implausible after maybe the second, and definitely the third (and fourth) time. Everyone else is perfectly adequate, though Lane’s wife (Mireille Enos) is completely undeveloped and kind of useless as anything other than a beacon for Lane to be striving toward. There’s a lot of political commentary sprinkled throughout. North Korea’s harsh policies lead to zero infections. Israel opens its doors to its neighbors only to have a bunch of praying Muslims summon a horde of zombies (draw your own conclusions which side of the strip the writers back).
“Mother nature is a serial killer.”
Fortunately, the film doesn’t try to answer all our questions. The source is left ambiguous (as always). And we don’t see the beginning or even the end of the “war”, we just get a sliver of it- the time between panicking and figuring shit out. The story remains engaging throughout, relying on our curiosity at what situation Pitt is going to fall into next (he has a tendency of arriving RIGHT before shit goes down).
Overall, “World War Z” is exactly what it wanted to be, albeit probably not what most expected. It’s not a hack-and-slash zombie fest. It’s a thriller. A thinking man’s zombie flick. It’ll entertain for two hours, and you’ll come out having seen a relatively unique take on a classic sub-genre. Don’t go in looking for a direct adaptation of Brooks’s story; you won’t find it. But you’ll find a movie that stands on its own legs as an intelligent, thriller… with zombies.