I’m pretty sure pigs aren’t flying outside my window, but if you told me Brad Pitt would one day be starring in a $200M+ zombie epic, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, Pitt is the man who championed World War Z, Paramount Pictures’ massive adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie plague anthology “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.” All throughout filming, the Marc Forster-directed thriller has been warding off their own epidemic: bad press. It’s been so bad that it became difficult to enter the theater with anything but low expectations. Maybe it’s because I was expecting the worst, or maybe it’s because you can throw money at problems, but World War Z turned out to be quite the summer extravaganza.
I haven’t read Brooks’ source material, but I’ve seen enough zombie films that my brain is already turning to mush. Most of them are terrible. The zombie subgenre isn’t easy to tackle, especially considering the lack of an antagonist, the normal concern of budget vs. scope, and the fact that there’s nothing really “new” to deliver. If anything, a zombie filmmaker should be hoping to deliver on entertainment alone, which is where World War Z earns its merits.
Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a United Nations employee who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. His mission? To find the initial source of infection.
Much like every zombie movie before it, World War Z doesn’t really know where it’s going and sort of runs through the motions of what they perceive as “realism.” What it does have going for it is the insanely massive budget, which allows for a plethora of incredible set pieces. And because of the large amounts of money, Forster was able to avoid the biggest plague in zombie films – exposition heavy sequences set in boring, claustrophobic locations. It came as a major surprise that, within the first 20 minutes, World War Z tramples through what all of the events and tropes you’d normally see in an entire independent zombie flick. The epidemic hits like Mike Tyson’s fist to Little Mac’s head, and then explodes into a maddening pace that barely allows your heart to calm down. There’s a moment where Gerry and his family take refuge in a family’s small apartment, and before I could even scoff at the cliché, they were on the roof being evacuated.
World War Z pushes down on the pedal, accelerates and drives at a furious pace, up until a point. A good hour and a half features some of the most intense zombie set pieces and a breathtaking scope that’s never before seen the big screen. There was a moment that I had to stop, look down, and take a big breath; I couldn’t believe how intense and exhilarating it was.
And just like that, it wasn’t anymore…
All of the bad press comes to light in the film’s flaccid third act, most of which takes place in a bland research facility. It becomes apparent that the filmmakers had no idea how to end this movie as they take viewer out of the enormous real-world events and press them inside this claustrophobic building. Everything that was great about World War Z is immediately evacuated as it becomes the most cliché and generic zombie movie ever made. Everything from here on out is a step backwards, leading to a flatline of a finale. My heart had stopped beating; this time I was hanging my head in frustration.
You and me, we’re zombie connoisseurs. We have seen it all. There’s nothing in World War Z that hasn’t already been in a Romero or Fulci film, or 28 Days Later for that matter. What you’re paying for is to experience a massive studio zombie flick, one that, while limitless in size, is forced to hold back on originality and extreme violence for the general public.
It’s really a treat to see Brad Pitt starring in something this risky and, even with the lackluster finale, World War Z still manages to deliver. If anything, horror fans should expect a mindless popcorn muncher jam-packed with incredible set pieces.