Life for former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane and his family seems content. Suddenly, the world is plagued by a mysterious infection turning whole human populations into rampaging mindless zombies. After barely escaping the chaos, Lane is persuaded to go on a mission to investigate this disease. What follows is a perilous trek around the world where Lane must brave horrific dangers and long odds to find answers before human civilization falls.
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Worth Every Penny of Its Budget
Rooting against big budgeted Hollywood excesses is an on and off again pastime for me. While I enjoy a summer blockbuster just as much as anyone when they are good (see The Avengers), I can’t help but snicker when I see a terrible idea go down in flames (see the Lone Ranger).
And so was the expectation with World War Z, director Marc Forster’s adaptation of the critically acclaimed Max Brooks’ novel. The book was clever in that it was written like a historical retelling of a real event, the event here being the zombie apocalypse. Forster and screenwriter Matthew Carnahan shun most of Brook's narrative style, giving the author's witty concept the Hollywood makeover. It should be noted that World War Z had one of the more troubled production phases in recent film history with rumors circulating that its budget had skyrocketed to as much as $400 million (In reality, it was more in the $200-$250 million range). Recasting, script rewrites, and director-star squabbles were all in the mix which usually is a recipe for disaster come release time. But not only has WWZ defied odds by being a runaway hit looking now to eventually turn a profit, it is also one of the most expertly concocted thrillers in recent memory.
Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator who is enjoying retirement playing Mr. Mom with his wife and two children. After he and his family narrowly escape the onslaught of the zombie outbreak in downtown Philadelphia, they eventually are whisked to safety aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier where Gerry is recruited by his old U.N. boss to assist in tracking down the outbreak’s source. Lane then begins what will eventually become a globetrotting investigation where he and crew face the deadliness of the infection head on in Korea, Israel, and England.
Pitt is rolling into his middle age roles nicely. He plays Lane as a low key, slick government flatfoot whose previous experience in crappy situations helps keep him alive in the madness here. And it is pretty much his show the whole way through. He is aided throughout the film by different groups of people with little development of any of these side characters. It is a small drawback and the non stop thrill ride of the film’s events more than make up for it.
Forster creates sequence after sequence here that one ups the previous one on the nail biting meter. Brook’s zombies are not your slump around, Walking Dead type zombies. As savage as they were in 28 Days Later, the creatures here are even more beastly in their speed and brutality. Forster borrows some from Danny Boyle’s masterpiece early on but finds his own narrative as WWZ moves forward. From an airplane landing on a pitch black military landing strip to an escape from an over ran safety compound in the middle of the day, Forster keeps viewers glued to the screen no matter where the setting is. The film culminates in a masterfully paced final act in which Pitt and friends zero in on possible relief for the catastrophic epidemic.
WWZ is smart while not being pretentious and exciting without being outrageous. It is everything one can want in a summer blockbuster and hopefully the beginning of an excellent franchise.