The 2012 apocalyptic action zombie film World War Z, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt, follows the story of Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. investigator, who is ordered to help find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. Though the movie is only a loose adaptation of Max Brook's eponymous novel, it is nonetheless a truly satisfying production which can without a doubt be considered an excellent zombie film that provides a substantial contribution to the genre as a whole.
The audience is thrown into the action right from the beginning (there are perhaps 30 seconds of calm before the first zombie makes its appearance). Lane, his wife, and two young daughters are sitting in gridlock traffic in Philadelphia when the masses of undead attack, rapidly infecting hundreds of people. Lane and his family narrowly escape, fleeing to an apartment building to await a helicopter being sent to extract them by Lane's former colleague Thierry, the Deputy Secretary General of the U.N. The next day the family, again narrowly escaping zombies, make it to the helicopter and are taken to a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of New York. This is one of the key ways in which the movie sets itself apart. Instead of the usual disaster movie plot of characters struggling to reach a safe zone, in World War Z the protagonist is quickly rescued, allowing for a faster pace and more dynamic narrative.
Once on board the ship, the American naval commander asks Lane (who, as a former U.N. investigator, is the veteran of years of work in dangerous parts of the world) to help the survivors' top virologist, Dr Fassbach, find the source of the zombie virus so that a vaccine can be developed. Lane is forced to accept since his refusal would result in his family being removed from the ship. Fassbach, Lane and a small escort of Navy SEALS fly to Camp Humphreys, an American military base in South Korea where the term zombie was first used. The doctor accidentally kills himself and Lane resolves to continue the investigation alone. He gathers information from the base's soldiers and from a treacherous CIA operative detained there, who tells him to go to Jerusalem to meet the head of Mossad. Israel finished building an immense wall around the entire country just one week before the beginning of the pandemic, implying that the nation was forewarned of the apocalypse.
Lane flies to Jerusalem and gains little information from the head of Mossad before the city is overun by hundreds of thousands of undead. During the attack his observations of zombie behaviour lead him to theorise a way of defeating the virus. Again he narrowly escapes huge hordes of the undead, this time on board a commercial airliner. Thierry diverts the plane to Cardiff, where the nearest World Health Organization research facility is located, so that Lane can use his field observations to help find a cure. Upon arrival at the research facility he explains his theory for defeating the plague and must then creep through the zombie infested hallways of the facility to get the biological agents he needs to test his idea. World War Z ends on a hopeful note; Lane's idea was successful, allowing humanity to bring the fight to the zombies, and he is reunited with his family in a safe zone in Nova Scotia.
Plenty of critics are calling World War Z conventional and, because of its departure from the novel, even disappointing. Yet the movie does in fact set itself apart from the average disaster film in many key ways. In addition to allowing for the protagonist to be rescued quickly, the narrative also focuses on just one person (unlike the majority of zombie flicks which focus on a group of survivors), and does not resort to the cheap tricks of the symptomless carrier who unknowingly infects other survivors, the knowingly infected survivor who doesn't admit it, and the always ridiculous concept of the naturally immune.
World War Z manages to blend immense action scenes with the more intimate suspense familiar to the zombie movie fan. The narrative transitions from large-scale panic in the streets of Philadelphia, to the terror of narrow apartment building corridors, back to the large scale during the fall of Jerusalem, and ends with the suspense of creeping through the hallways of the WHO facility. These large scale scenes of mass panic, huge waves of zombies, and general societal collapse are what really immerse the viewer. Brad Pitt also gives a strong performance, blending the internal calm and know how of a veteran investigator with the emotions elicited by such a devastating apocalypse. Lane's internal thought process was particularly well executed. For example, at the very beginning of the movie, during the panic when he and his family are fleeing from zombies in Philadelphia, he counts how long it takes a bitten person to reanimate. This count comes up throughout the movie as he counts out seconds to determine whether a potentially infected survivor will "turn".
In the face of these sweeping positive aspects, the criticism that the movie is curiously bloodless and that it doesn't do the book justice should not put a damper on the success of this film. The lack of blood does not change the raw impact of the scenes of chaos or of the action sequences and sticking to the book more would have resulted in a jumbled mess. World War Z emerged from a troubled production and an ocean of funding with dignity. The story is visually grand, the protagonist is strong, the action sequences are powerful, and most importantly, the audience walks away truly satisfied. Pay no heed to the negative reviews, you will not regret watching this blockbuster.
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