In some ways Marc Forster’s “World War Z” (based on the book by Max Brookes) marks the return of the zombie film. Something that’s long overdue. These days the only real talk associated with zombies has to do with AMC’s immensely popular “The Walking Dead.” We haven’t had a full on zombie horror film (I’m not counting comedies like “Warm Bodies,” which came out earlier this year) since George A. Romero’s (often considered to be the “Grandfather of the Zombie Film”) underrated “Survival of the Dead” in 2009.
And I suppose that’s not surprising; the zombie film has been done and redone so many times that the stories have become stale and the characters usually don’t go beyond cliché--even “Survival of the Dead” is one of Romero’s weaker efforts (he made the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 and the masterpiece “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978). And the only reason why “The Walking Dead” works and is so popular is because it’s a television show and there hasn’t ever been a TV show about people surviving a zombie apocalypse.
So then, I suppose “World War Z” comes at the perfect time and despite all the trouble surrounding the production (involving script rewrites and reshoots) the movie does work. In fact it does more than work; it breathes new life into the subgenre, mainly because Forster and Co. choose to tackle the issue of a zombie apocalypse on a grander scale, a worldwide scale to be precise (hence the title “World War Z”), something that’s never been tried before.
While most zombie pictures focus on small bands of survivors holding up in shelter of some kind (in a house, or in the case of “Dawn of the Dead” a shopping mall) or trying to move and find other survivors in a small radius, “World War Z” goes all around the world. It’s probably the most proactive zombie flick to ever come out; instead of the protagonists simply trying to survive and find safety, the characters in “World War Z” are actively trying to seek out a solution the zombie outbreak, whilst putting themselves in harm’s way. There’s more of a goal in this movie and it also manages to reverse the typical zombie movie storyline.
The story begins at the…well, the beginning of the outbreak; in a cliché and superfluous opening scene we’re introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN employee, his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and his their two daughters (who wake them up by jumping on their bed). Luckily Forester doesn’t linger too long on this sappy moment and takes us right to the action; while Gerry and the family is stuck in a traffic jam in downtown New Jersey everything suddenly erupts into chaos. I don’t think I need to say anymore about that.
Eventually Gerry and family find safety on a navy ship and while they’re about to settle down Gerry is called back into action: the UN wants him find a way to combat the infestation. This leads Gerry on a worldwide search, going from South Korea, to Israel and India with plenty of zombie carnage along the way. And there is a lot of carnage. “World War Z” probably has more zombies on screen at one time than any other zombie movie; in one exhilarating scene a massive swarm of zombies use each other to scale a colossal wall protecting survivors, or in another instance where zombies literally throw themselves like ragdolls off of buildings to attack survivors running away on the ground.
After the initial action in Jersey the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindeloff settles into a nice rhythm: Gerry and whoever happens to be with him at the time go to one place, learn some information about the outbreak, zombies attack, Gerry and Co. get away, they go onto the next place. And so on. This may sound repetitive but I never felt that once during the entire film. Each scene and each development in the plot adds on to the previous one and keeps it going. Forster moves the picture along at a steady pace, never meandering off track or losing sight of its end goal.
My only major problem with the movie is the fact that Forester et al. could have gone even bigger with the story. Since the film is trying to portray the zombie apocalypse on a worldwide scale, it would have been better if they had brought in multiple protagonists and multiple storylines from all around the world, instead of just showing the outbreak from Gerry’s point of view. There’s nothing wrong with Gerry’s point of view (and Pitt settles into the role with ease; never bland but also not over-the-top) but providing multiple viewpoints and multiple main characters would give the audience a more complete picture of this global catastrophe, much like Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” did for the Mexican drug war.
There are other little quibbles I could list but that would be nitpicking and I don’t want to do that. There’s no doubt that the movie could have been even better but as it is right now it still works and it gives me hope that the zombie horror film will endure.