"World War Z" starts off innocuously enough, with former United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) cooking breakfast for his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and two daughters, Connie and Rachel. There's a mention of martial law in the newscast, and then the family piles into the car to take the kids to school.
About five minutes into the movie, the intensity ramps up, and it doesn't let up until the very end. As the Lane family sits in a station wagon in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Philadelphia, some news comes over the radio about an international rabies outbreak. Helicopters fly overhead, police motorcycles speed by, and then a giant explosion goes off a few blocks away. The family manages to get away, but as they're fleeing among the panicking crowd, Gerry notices some fast-moving people who exhibit aggressive behavior and start biting others. Once bitten, victims have seizures, die, and start exhibiting the same aggressive behavior within 12 seconds.
The Lanes pile into an abandoned RV and drive out of Philly and into Newark. They call Gerry's former boss at the UN, Thierry (Fana Mokoena), who promises to send a helicopter at dawn to rescue them. The family takes refuge in a nearby apartment building and waits out the night. There's a nail-biting scene where you wonder if they'll make it on the helicopter, but finally, the Lane family lands on a U.S. aircraft carrier 200 miles off the East Coast. Brilliant analysts and the U.S. military are trying to figure out how to contain the outbreak. Gerry is told that his family can stay aboard the vessel — but only if he agrees to help track down the source of the infection so virologists can develop a cure. (The moral of the story is that, in the event of a global catastrophe, don't pin your hopes on the smartest guy in the room.)
It's a little bit like "Taken," where Gerry must come out of retirement to exercise his special set of (analytical) skills. Aside from knowing that he used to be an investigator for the UN, we know very little about what Gerry did before he became a stay-at-home dad. He mentions that his line of work required moving very quickly, and he is very calm and collected in combat situations.
Interestingly, in a departure from the source material, the word "zombie" is only uttered a few times in the film, and all are in reference to the usage of the word in a military memo. Members of the military refer to the infected people as "zekes," so these aren't "zombies," and we're not watching a zombie outbreak. There are jokes that we can always outrun a zombie attack, but in this film, the infected can run, lunge and tackle before they put their chompers on you. There's no shambling here.
Pitt does a good job as Gerry. His real-life brood has definitely prepared him for the protective paternal aspect of the character. You really get the sense that he's just a dad who's trying to finish the job so he can to get home to his family.
As the film starts and viewers are still learning who the players are, I had some trouble telling when characters were referring to Pitt's character, Gerry, or Mokoena's character, Thierry. The two names sound very similar, and neither character is in the book, so the writers could've easily changed one of the names. When Gerry and Thierry are conversing, the similar names make it seem like they're talking to themselves rather than each other.
Marc Forster's filmography includes "Finding Neverland" and "Quantum of Solace" — two films that were snoozefests — I wasn't sure what to expect with "World War Z." I'd also read about the production delays due to script rewrites, so I prepared myself for the worst. Luckily, my trepidation was unwarranted because Forster is spot-on with "World War Z." The action sequences are fast and intense, and the suspenseful portions had members of the screening audience expending their nervous energy in different ways. Although it's a strong film and it tells a very coherent story, there are a couple of short scenes that unwisely broke up the movie's momentum and should've been omitted.
"World War Z" is a fast-paced thrill ride through the bleak, gray landscape of a postapocalyptic world. If you're not tired of the craze yet, this is one of the best zombie movies in recent memory — behind "Shaun of the Dead," of course. Fans of the book may not be too thrilled with this loose adaptation of the source material, but everyone else should check it out.
"World War Z" is rated and has a running time of 1 hour 56 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and 3-D.
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