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By Rolf Anthony Young
There is plenty to worry about before you see World War Z. Early on, rumors spread of creative differences between director Marc Forster and lead actor Brad Pitt during production. This was followed by multiple rewrites of the script as Pitt hired Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus, and Lost) to rewrite the original ending. Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods and Lost) was added late in the rewriting process as the movie’s ending was scraped and filmed again. Adding more trouble the $125 million budget soon ballooned to over $200 million as re-shoots continued causing Paramount to delay the release of the film by six months. So it’s with great surprise and a large sigh of relief to suggest that World War Z is not only a fantastic zombie movie, but a great summer surprise as well.
To think that Brad Pitt would be involved in a zombie movie is kind of amazing. To date, there are more than 500 zombie movies and I am willing to bet most of those movies are not very good. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is considered by many the epicenter of the zombie genre. Then 2002’s 28 Days Later rejuvenated interest in zombie movies and recently AMC’s The Walking Dead has captured a large following with its focus on the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Even the CDC has a zombie preparedness webpage. Understanding the mainstream fascination of a zombie attack allows for World War Z, based on the book by Max Brooks, to arrive at a tipping point in the undead media empire.
Forster opens the film with found footage to suggest to the audience that the world is falling apart. Beginning in Philadelphia, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife Karin Lane (Mireille Enos) along with his daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) start their day with a big pancake breakfast. News reports echo from the kitchen TV as Gerry explains to his youngest daughter what martial law is. He quickly dismisses any idea of returning to his old dangerous job at the United Nations and tells Constance that he is retired and just wants to be a dad. Forster does an excellent job of quickly building cinematic tension by introducing zombie pandemonium as Gerry waits with his family in morning traffic. After crashing the family car, Gerry gathers his family as they flee the scene trying to avoid the chaos that surrounds them. While running, Gerry observes the transformation of a bitten pedestrian into a raging zombie machine. This sequence in particular is one of my favorite movie moments of the year.
The movie shifts from a survival film into a globetrotting adventure as Gerry is forced back into his old job at the UN as a field officer to help find the source of the outbreak while his family is protected on an aircraft carrier. A military base in South Korea is the first stop as Gerry, with a group of Navy Seals, accompanies a young Harvard scientist who hopes to discover patient zero. This does not go well. Soon, Gerry is on his way to Jerusalem because a prisoner at the military base played by David Morse suggests he may find his answer there. As fan of 12 Monkeys it was fun to see Morse and Pitt share an important scene together again. The more memorable action sequences take place in Jerusalem with Gerry escaping the attacking zombie horde. A zombie attack on a helicopter was a highlight for me. World War Z becomes a little predictable when Gerry and Segen (Daniella Kertesz), an Israeli army officer Gerry befriends, end up at a World Health Organization facility in Cardiff. Fans of zombie movies will especially enjoy how Gerry employs good zombie tactics while breaking into a science lab within the facility. World War Z adds a new twist on how humanity will survive the undead epidemic.
With Forster’s direction, and Pitt’s strong performance, World War Z overcomes its cliché moments to deliver a solid zombie movie that is worthy of a ticket purchase. It’s strange to think how zombie movies have matured since Romero’s classic while wondering about the future of the zombie franchise.
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