World War Z opens with a montage of news clips all foretelling our certain doom at the hands of the climate, epidemics, or violence. It’s spun of familiar enough stories to get the heart rate pumping before throwing the audience into the middle of a zombie attack. Yet, at this point, isn’t a zombie apocalypse a familiar story too?
In World War Z, Gerry (Brad Pitt) and Karin Lane (Mireille Enos) are on a trip with their daughters, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove), when a sudden, violent disturbance hurls them into the midst of a bizarre outbreak of what appears to be a zombie virus. Gerry is a retired investigator for the United Nations and gets called in by his old boss, Thierry (Fana Mokoena), who offers evacuation for his family in return for him coming back to a job that broke him down psychologically. Before long, Gerry is jet-setting from South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales, trying to find the source of the virus and the chink in its armor that can bring it down.
Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly suggested that World War Z is actually the story of Brad Pitt, an actor who usually avoids doing summer blockbusters and works to balance the chaotic love of a big family life with flying around the world as one half of a very famous Hollywood couple. The analysis seems pretty adept as the first act of the film makes parenting—especially during a zombie apocalypse—look pretty high stakes. Perhaps, too, it’s one of the film’s major weaknesses, as the story feels episodic to the point of occasional disconnect. Although the suspense is sustained throughout, the balance created early on between Gerry and Karin’s family and the action elsewhere dissipates to an increasing focus on Gerry alone. In the end, the impact of the climax is lessened by this dynamic.
On the other hand, World War Z features a strong ensemble cast and an attention to detail that helps the audience feel in on Gerry’s solution to the mystery. In one scene, a Harvard virologist, Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel), compares Mother Nature to a serial killer who likes to get caught, pointing out that perceived weaknesses are often the clues she leaves behind. This scene sets the tone for Gerry’s further investigations in which his small observations lead to big results. This emphasis on observation distinguishes World War Z from many other zombie or action movies. Sure, there are plenty of gory scenes, guns, and explosions to satisfy the summer blockbuster rubric, but the film really shines in its more thoughtful elements.
Along with Brad Pitt’s strong performance, Mireille Enos’s appearance in the film feels too brief. Although she and Pitt don’t have the sexy chemistry that he and Angelina Jolie do, the pair has a comfortable dynamic on screen that works well for portraying a married couple that functions as a strong team. As Segen, a Israeli soldier who helps Gerry in the second half of the film, Daniella Kertesz delivers a strong, quiet performance that balances out Gerry’s gentleness, providing the teamwork dynamic when Enos’s Karin is on the sidelines. Similarly, as Pitt’s Gerry runs around the world, many strong actors portray the supporting characters who help unravel the mystery.
World War Z isn’t perfect and perhaps it only seemed so good because so many movies this year have been bad or mediocre. Still, it’s well acted and smartly plotted in a way that compensates for the anticlimactic ending by not dragging things out. I genuinely enjoyed watching the small clues come together as a band scientists tried to save the world. For a strong ensemble, plenty of suspense, and smart attention to detail, I rate World War Z 4/5 stars.
World War Z was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof based on the novel by Max Brooks. It was directed by Marc Forster and runs 116. Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.
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