Saturday, June 29, 2013

World War Z

Brad Pitt, who will return to his Oscar bait ways later this year with roles in 12 Years A Slave and The Counselor, is spending his summer on screen as a family man, Gerry Lane, who tries to save his loved ones and the whole world from zombies. World War Z, based loosely on a book we haven't read, features lots and lots of the undead. And these are zombies that don't walk lurchingly (nor dance, as in Thriller); instead, they run wildly, bursting through windows and tumbling over walls and doing whatever it takes to bite anyone who is still a living human.

This film doesn't break any ground cinematically or offer too many surprises, unless you count the aforementioned zombie physicality or the several edge-of-your-seat moments in which Gerry comes very close to getting bitten. While Pitt is likable as the hero, the script doesn't give him an opportunity to really shine as an actor they way I Am Legend did for Will Smith in 2007. That film seems like a reasonable comparison to this one; they both feature a plot in which the human race worldwide is threatened by a highly contagious virus that hijacks bodies and rapidly transforms them into rabid monsters. But while that earlier story focused tightly on one man's loneliness and offered only quick flashbacks of the apocalypse, World War Z gives us a heavy dose of violent mayhem as zombies transform major cities into overrun wastelands virtually overnight.

In spite of a climax that is a bit too predictable and a resolution that is impossibly tidy, this PG-13 horror story is actually very cool entertainment for a hot summer day. Rather than try to out-do other action blockbusters with larger and larger explosions and destruction, most of the big-scale ruin is implied here rather than shown, so that the plot never strays too far from Gerry and his family and the small group of United Nations officials helping them. There is no silly dialogue that makes you want to cringe. And there is no ridiculous allegory or take-away message for us to ponder. It's just fun suspense. Director Marc Forster (whose most recent hit was 2008's James Bond film, Quantum of Solace) is efficient enough in his storytelling to keep the running time under two hours and the pace of events is pleasantly brisk. And while there are a few bloody scenes that are tough to watch, most of the on-screen gore comes at the expense of those who are, technically, already dead. So World War Z, flaws acknowledged, is a recommendable diversion for fans of the genre and anyone who likes a good action movie.

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