Entertainment :: Movies

World War Z

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 21, 2013
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A scene from ’World War Z’
A scene from ’World War Z’  (Source:Paramount Pictures)

Tired of the slow, shambling menace of zombies? Try this on for size: Fast, nimble hordes of the undead that run, jump and hurl themselves with communal hunger at any and all impediments, including walls and skyscrapers, to get to their next meal.

That’s the central idea around which the Brad Pitt vehicle "World War Z" is built, and like the gnashing, screeching monsters it depicts, the film is swift and agile. Pitt’s character is Gerry Lane, a former United Nations field investigator.

Because he’s a former U.N. agent, Lane has no special foreknowledge or insight into the sudden, catastrophic eruption of mass violence that overtakes his city, Philadelphia; he and his family are simply, suddenly thrown into the turmoil of a society on the brink of collapse, as aggressive, biting-mad "zombies" run rampant in the streets.

It’s only when Gerry’s contacted by his former boss, who has taken refuge on a U.N. aircraft carrier, that he’s granted the access and protection that he needs to ensure his family’s survival. The bargain calls for Gerry to spearhead an investigation into the origin of the disease, tracking it back, if possible, to a "patient zero."

At first, "World War Z" looks like it might take the form of a particularly bloody medical procedural -- something like Stephen Soderbergh’s "Contagion" with more action and occasional fireballs -- but that avenue is unceremoniously discarded, and the film becomes a road movie of sorts, as Gerry pursues leads that take him to Korea, Israel and Wales.

The film has a few lapses of logic. The zombies are evidently infected with a new and highly virulent strain of rabies that can "turn" a bite victim into a biting attacker in as little as 12 seconds. How, then, is air travel the "ideal" vector for the pathogen? As any traveler these days can attest, you can’t get through check-in and security in less than 42 minutes most days, let alone cross the Atlantic ocean. (The movie offers one possible explanation, when a zombie comes lurching out of an airliner’s closet, but this seems unlikely as an explanation for how such a fast-acting disease could hop from one continent to another.)

Such quibbles aside, this turns out to be the summer’s first truly enjoyable tent pole movie. Its structure is that of an especially grisly hero’s journey; the goal is less a tidy resolution than a white-knuckle thrill ride, and director Marc Forster, working from a script created by a whole team of A-list writers (including Damon Lindelhof and J. Michael Straczynski), delivers the goods.

Suspenseful and scary, "World War Z" provides laughs, jolts and characters to care about -- all ingredients missing from "Star Trek Into Darkness" (in which Lindelhof also had a hand) and "Man of Steel," two of the summer’s biggest disappointments. It might even be appropriate for this film to resuscitate the summer blockbuster as a cinematic form, seeing as how summer fare has gotten to be, well, zombified: Plodding, relentless, and grim.

This project, a labor of love for Pitt, injects the fun and zip that other films forsake in the name of going bigger and louder at the expense of telling us a story.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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