Let's get one thing out of the way, my pretties. The novel World War Z and the movie World War Z haven't much in common aside from the name and the idea of zombie mayhem exploding on a global scale. Don't expect the movie to be like the book or vice versa. Take each one on its own terms as a different animal, and you might have more fun with both. OK? Good. Now let's get to the movie, which gives the zombie genre a literal run for its money by giving us city-swamping numbers of undead monsters who have the lightning-fast foot speed of Usain Bolt and the insatiable hunger of that guy from Man Vs. Food. Terrified yet? Pass the popcorn!
First thoughts: Thank the cinema gods we've finally gotten over idiotic sparkly vampires at the movies! Let's have some properly unnerving undead creatures wanting to devour humanity, mmmmkay? Also, even though he looks a bit worse for wear, Brad "Mr. Angelina Jolie" Pitt is still way hotter than Robert "Shovelface" Pattinson.
Opening credits with a collection of fake news clips reporting various ominous-sounding anomalous events around the world. The illusion of realism is shattered almost immediately, though, by the presentation of bilious buffoon Piers Morgan as a serious journalist. Ha! Thanks, World War Z, for assuring us all that this is just one big fantasy movie. We wink back at the moviemakers ... and since one of them is Brad Pitt himself as producer, we don't mind winking. My new and sudden hope of seeing zombies crash the CNN sound stage and eat Piers Morgan live on camera, however, goes sadly unfulfilled. (Note to self: mark down the film's grade for that.)
Now to the story proper: The movie starts off in Philadelphia and Newark, where aerial shots reveal grimy urban hellholes full of debris, fires, and screaming panicked natives running for their lives. And then the zombie plague actually starts.
OK, seriously now: Pitt is Gerry Lane, a former UN human-rights investigator who's given up all that messy research and globetrotting to make pancakes at home in Philly with his wife (Mireille Enos in a mostly thankless role) and two daughters. Then his attempt to drive his kids to school turns into as nightmarish a disaster as you've been hoping for as all zombie hell breaks loose and gets the story going. Thanks to his old UN connections, Lane and company manage to get rescued to an aircraft carrier, but he's swiftly tasked with going out with a team to look for a cure or vaccine for the zombie plague by looking for Patient Zero, the source.
This is where the movie and the book come closest to each other, as Pitt finds himself desperately traveling from the East Coast of the US to South Korea to Israel to Wales in his quest, with each location offering its own distinctive atmosphere, perils, challenges, and characters. This necessarily leads to a certain blink-and-you-miss-it approach to character development; there are simply too many people, yet that approach is part of the (admirable and mostly successful) attempt to sketch out the vast global scope of the movie. Even if we don't get to know everyone very well, we get brief, punchy impressions of them, and that'll do, pig, that'll do. Some of the actors even manage to make their brief moments memorable (see veteran character actor David Morse for instance). You'll recognize some of the many faces, and keep an eye on a new face too: Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz as Segen, a tough-as-nails IDF officer who more than holds her own on screen against Pitt.
As for the movie's problems: A lot of them seem to have happened before it hit the theaters. There were plenty of reports of problems during production, needs for rewrites and reshoots, and such. This probably explains why we have the ending that we do, which seems a little anti-climactic and substitutes a voiceover for images. The movie also has plot holes and lapses in logic - lots of them, big and small. Explaining in too much detail would constitute spoilers, so I'll just stop here. One more thing: Brad, sweetie, get a haircut!
Overall? Despite its flaws, World War Z is a rip-roaring scary good time at the movies that takes the zombie genre to new heights. Of the many things it gets right is its decision to focus on suspense instead of gore, its judicious and creative use of special effects, its nimble ability to juggle numerous tones and locations, and its choice to take zombies seriously as it reimagines them. Besides, this flick is worth the price of admission just for the absolutely riveting, pulse-pounding scenes in Jerusalem and on a commercial jetliner. The two scenes are polar opposites in terms of construction and space, but both are unforgettable.
There is more that can be said about the movie's take on various issues and geopolitical concerns and crisis management and pandemics, but that's for another day. I'll point out with gratitude, though, a shot showing the rescue of priceless artworks and the Declaration of Independence.
World War Z runs 116 minutes and is rated PG-13 for ... Do I really have to explain the rating? This is a movie about a zombie apocalypse. In fact, the flick pulls its punches in plenty of places; this thing could easily have been an R if it hadn't. Heck, Shaun of the Dead got an R (great flick, by the way).
MM gives World War Z a grade of B+. (Or B, since Piers Morgan didn't get eaten.)
Rotten Tomatoes gives the flick the Fresh rating of 67%.
Here is the trailer: