At the height of pop-culture's obsession with everything zombie-related, World War Z seems ideally placed to be a surprise hit at the box office this summer. With a very popular book as it's source material (though apparently loosely so) and a name like Brad Pitt attached to it, the enormous budget of nearly $200 million seems like an understandable investment for the executives at Paramount Studios. Still, with Man of Steel tearing up the box office and a bevy of similar competition around the corner, it may be an uphill battle for World War Z to make an impression on audiences this summer. With all this in mind, as well as a marketing campaign that seemed intentionally coy (one only gets a good view of the zombies in the film itself), I had no idea what I was about to see when the opening credits began.
Gerry and his family live fairly normal lives, eating pancakes for breakfast and making the best of rush hour traffic playing guessing games. However, the streets soon turn to pandemonium as a hyper-violent mass of humanoid monsters begin attacking everyone in reach. Fleeing the scene in a borrowed vehicle, Gerry takes his family to safety and is recruited to discover the origin of this rapidly spreading affliction. Meanwhile, the death toll is rising dramatically and the safety of his family depends on his involvement in the preservation of mankind.
A few things were driven home from the opening credits of this film. Not just that Muse's "The 2nd Law: Isolated System" is a great way to build tension and intrigue, but also that this was going to be a different take on a zombie apocalypse than we've seen before. However, that isn't to say that the story-telling technique is necessarily groundbreaking. As recently as 2011 we had an extremely realistic and frightening take on a widespread pandemic in the exceptional Contagion. Though this film tries for realism in its portrayal of zombieism (which in and of itself is a losing battle), it tends to talk down to the audience in a slightly condescending way that Contagion was far too sophisticated to settle for.
Regardless of its similarities to other films, World War Z is undeniably intense. From beginning to end it keeps you on edge, constantly on alert for the next unexpected attack. Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland) does a great job of building suspense, particularly in the first half of the movie. It's a little unfortunate that there weren't more character moments to really attach the audience to Gerry's family, but that's a complaint one only has after reflecting on the story after the fact. While watching the film, it's almost impossible to think about anything but when the next zombie outbreak is going to occur.
The performances are pretty great all around, particularly from Pitt. Though his character is relatively undefined, he does a good job of selling his emotional conflict between his obligation to his fellow men and his desire to keep his family safe. Other actors do passable work, but the balance of screen time is so heavily leaning towards Pitt that almost everyone else gets short shrift.
While the massive groups of zombies climbing over each other like insects might look a little cartoony in trailers, the effects are greatly improved when seeing it on a big screen. The rest of the action scenes are certainly thrilling and the suspenseful climax is possibly more-so. Though it may be a little predictable and slightly unsatisfying, the ending certainly leaves the door open for future installments should the film prove as profitable as studio execs are hoping. World War Z plays like a combination of The Walking Dead and Contagion, which ultimately makes it an exciting and intriguing experience. I give this film a solid three stars.
WORLD WAR Z is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
*For more information about the film, check out the promotional feature of WWZ here!