The most innovative thing about World War Z is that, unlike most zombie films in recent memory, the characters actually call the undead "zombies." This is a burning question the film implicitly invites us to consider and then abandons: Is this a world where other films exist? And if so, which ones?
World War Z is quite loosely adapted from a popular book of the same title by Max Brooks. The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, who was once an all-around badass for the United Nations but has recently retired in order to spend more time with his boring family. For all we know, his retirement lasts through breakfast and then that's it, because the zombie attack comes pretty swiftly on their morning commute through the streets of Philadelphia.
The content of these first scenes are about what you'd expect: Panicked driving, grocery store looting, Pitt's daughter jeopardizing everyone's life because she dropped her precious stuffed animal in the street—you know the drill. But this is what we came to see; the execution is thrilling, and there are some nice human moments. The scholarship on our fixation with zombies has been done: It's a comment on rabid consumerism or our apocalyptic anxieties in light of a strangled world economy, or else it just satisfies our bloodlust for gore and pillaging. It's become such a thing that it's starting to seem as though some people really do think that a zombie invasion is possible or even likely.
The film takes a panned-out, global perspective on the outbreak (as evidenced by the many aerial views of frantic CGI people running) and it's often fascinating. It mentions how North Korea managed to contain the virus by extracting the teeth of every citizen. In Israel, they put up a wall and let the Palestinians file in, because as one Israeli official put it, "Every person we save is one less we have to shoot." If you've seen the images of all the zombies piling up like so many ants outside the fortress, then you know how well putting up the big-ass wall turned out.
Pitt has the wife and two little girls to motivate him, but they're seriously dead weight. "I'm scared," the younger of the two opines, helpfully. It's a relief when they get dropped off at the military base while Daddy goes off and single-handedly saves the world. Beyond the family setup, there's not a lot of character development in this film, per se, but really, who needs it? When the world is falling apart and souls are lost in the span of 12 elongated seconds, it's enough to learn who these people are by what they do.
The U.S. government sends Pitt to South Korea with hopes of finding the origins of the disease and thus a cure, a task that would likely take months or years instead of mere days, but whatever. Along the way, Pitt meets a Navy Seal (the crush-worthy Matthew Fox) and a no-nonsense lady soldier named Segen (Daniella Kertesz) who is arguably the best character in the film. From Israel he hops onto a commercial aircraft (holy lord, pilots are the unsung heroes of this film, what would we do without them?) and you're thinking they might get a moment of peace once they're airborne, but no, it's Snakes on a Plane all over again, except with zombies.
This movie doesn't exactly break the mold, but given its highly publicized production problems, it turned out better than anyone expected. Did we really need another zombie film? Sure! With World War Z , we're given a fresh, global angle on a very serious, albeit fake problem.
World War Z continues at the Carmike 12, Village 6 and Pharaohplex.