There’s a blatant product placement late in World War Z that got the biggest laugh in our theater and there’s one humorous death early on, but this film is basically all business. The end of the world is a pretty big deal, after all, and WWZ spares no expense showing us the damage done. Brad Pitt may be a hearthrob in the tabloids, but the guy is also a solid enough actor to carry a film of this magnitude. Here he plays Gerry, the man who is basically in charge of figuring out how to stop the zombie plague that is rapidly destroying life as we know it around the globe. In fact, one of the film’s strengths is portraying just how massive an event like this would actually be. Pitt travels from one exotic location to the next, barely staying one step ahead of the carnage as he tries to solve this medical mystery.
Putting the world in a movie with World in the title is pretty impressive, but it also creates an accesibility problem that I always find a bit distracting in disaster movies. Pitt (and by extension, Gerry), is a likeable guy, but no matter how much I’m rooting for a hero, it’s hard to ignore the colossal damage being done around him and not feel stupid for cheering him on. I understand that movies have to have characters in them, but why exactly should I be happy Pitt and his family made it out alive when thousands or millions didn’t? The movie shows us the world ending, but doesn’t treat it with any gravitas. I guess it’s hard to be sad when you have some heavy duty ‘main character invincibility.’ Pitt is SO not going to die in this movie that even the man he reports to shrugs off a plane crash with “that dude’s crafty, he probably survived.” And he’s right.
The second half plays a little better when things settle in and get scaled down. It’s much easier to root for a character fighting through an enclosed space with a clear goal in mind than it is to root for a guy to be the ONE guy who gets out of a falling city. There’s nothing new here (I should know, since my own novel has some of the same basic scenes) but it’s well done, which is all you can ask at this point in the shelf life of “zombie movie.”
The zombies themselves, though obviously CGI in most cases, are more threatening and frightening than most, as they take ‘not giving a shit about their own well being’ to a new level. The initial fall of Philadelphia is effective at showing how the zombies could gain the early advantage in this war, as it’s very difficult to tell friend from foe.
The dialogue is a bit clunky at times, with mostly unnecessary exposition coming in ways people just don’t talk to each other. “You are Gerry Whatever! You were in War Zone #2 in ’97!” to which the proper response would be, “I know who I am, duh.” They even break out the classic, “There’s no time to explain!” when explaining is the only thing that could possibly matter to the fate of mankind at that point in the movie.
But I’m nitpicking. Nobody’s going to the theater to see a Brad Pitt epic-level zombie flick for the dialogue. WWZ delivers in every way you would expect an action movie to deliver and it’s a thrilling and effective romp through the apocalypse. I groaned when I saw that this was PG-13 instead of R, but it’s actually a pretty intense PG-13. A movie can be scary and action-packed without being overly gory. There are no tits, so it’s all good in the MPAA’s eyes, I guess.
It’s not exactly hard for a theatrically released blockbuster to make it onto the first page of our rankings, but WWZ earned its spot. It’s a solid zombie movie and even has enough action to satisfy someone who might not be into the undead craze.