This was my first thought once the end credits began to roll for “World War Z,” the zombie epic from director Marc Forster based on the novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks. The ending is so vague, so abrupt, that it’s hard to imagine Hollywood not turning this into a franchise of sorts. And having began but not finished the novel (I got half way through), I don’t know how much the final film version borrows from it’s novel counterpart. At a certain point, I hit a wall while reading the novel and didn’t go any further. It’s basically broken up into a series of sections, with survivors from all over the world giving their personal accounts of the zombie plague. It’s like a documentary in novel form, which would have translated into a sort of “District 9” like approach if Forster and the writers had chosen to go this route for the adaptation. Instead, “World War Z” is an unexpected summer blockbuster, and instead of hitting a wall half-way through, the film never lets up.
It’s “War of the Worlds” meets “28 Days Later.” Brad Pitt is at the heart of this epic, playing United Nations employee Gerry Lane who has seen his fair share of conflict and mayhem across the globe. This is why he’s recruited to accompany a young scientist, thought to be humanity’s “best hope” for finding a cure to the plague, to South Korea. This is the first stop in a series of stops that include Israel and Wales, as Gerry traces clue after clue to find a way to stop the plague once and for all. Pitt carries the film on his shoulders. Lane’s commitment to protecting his family, who can only stay on the U.S. Naval vessel they’ve take refuge on if he agrees to help find a cure, gives the film a much needed beating heart among so many of the undead. Pitt is fearless in facing the zombie army.
It’s no secret that the film had its fair share of development problems, which included countless reshoots and rewrites, notably from “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. Despite these problems, the end product turned out to be a solid entry into the zombie genre, anchored by the star-power of Pitt. Forster’s action sequences see an improvement from his James Bond disappointment “Quantum of Solace.” The film balances wide-spread chaos with confined terror in a way rarely seen in zombie films. Having a PG-13 rating, the gore takes a back seat to the action, but it’s no less thrilling.
The world-wide effects are felt as Lane faces this globe-spanning spectacle in four key areas. Lane and his family first face the terror in Philadelphia, and gets his family out of harm’s way. Once they hole up in an apartment complex and are extracted by a helicopter, Lane treks to South Korea where the first mention of the word “zombie” came out of. This leads him to Israel, then to Wales after a devastating plane crash. The first time the zombies show up on screen is a delight, even if it has a post-9/11 fear of terrorism feel to it. The apartment scenes are awesomely suspenseful, and the first time we realize that maybe “World War Z” has some scares to go along with its mayhem. It’s also made clear it has some silliness to go along with it, too, whether it’s someone accidentally shooting himself in the head (it’s outrageously funny, though) or a phone ringing at a terrible time. The stand out scenes, though, are in Israel, where the zombie-ladder we saw in trailers and thought looked stupid is given some context. When the zombies make it over the wall, it’s a free-for-all of epic proportions.
Despite so many locations, the film is finely paced, even if it’s apparent that reshoots took place. Early in the film, Matthew Fox of “Lost” shows up for a full five seconds, and it would be safe to assume that his character had more screen time prior to reshoots. It’s probably for the best, though, as his character supposedly would have been part of a nasty “love triangle” to be developed more in future films. No.
Overall, “World War Z” is the surprise of the summer so far, an entertaining zombie film with an interesting solution to stopping the undead. Whatever problems took place on the set aren’t apparent in the final product. Forster proves he can direct action sequences as long as they include a surplus of flesh-eating monsters, and Pitt carries it with heart and bravery. Despite some silliness and an anticlimactic ending, the film is an unexpected thrill-ride.