The modern zombie story has a basic formula: outbreak, fight or flight, and you either find a cure or do your best to outlive the ghouls. There's no going around this. Not even Max Brooks, best selling writer and current authority on all things undead (to which this film is based on his work), cannot stray from this established algorithm of unspeakable horrors. What the characters do from point A to Z, how the world building of the zombie is set up, and the execution is what makes all the difference. If you want the same emotional experience expected with the latest episode of The Walking Dead, this isn't your movie. However, there's so much right in all this wrong that disaster and zombie aficionados are ill advised to turn their nose up at it. With hard-to-like side characters and breakneck / worst case scenarios from the notes of an average Roland Emmerich film, World War Z is a mostly disjointed disaster flick that strays heavily from its great source material, but like its source, it's a useful instruction guide for surviving a zombified world.
Gerry Lane was on his way out of Philadelphia with his family when people started to run. From out of nowhere and without warning, people are tearing each other apart. An ex-UN operative, Gerry's survivor mode kicks in, and he'll do anything to save his family-even if it means going on a global hunt for a cure to ensure his family's spot on an armed aircraft carrier. Cold leads turn hot at every turn, as do the infected, in this bio-hazard race to prevent humanity's extinction. To survive and return to his family, Gerry must rely on his improvisational skills or die trying.
What slowed this film for me, surprisingly enough, was the family element. I've been on the lookout for zombie mediums that have an enjoyable, functional, family dynamic. World War Z tried and died in this attempt. I didn't mind that Gerry was given a family, but how the film portrayed them - whiny and needy - made me wonder how on earth any of them managed to survive two cities, especially when the infected move three times faster than average humans. Once Gerry got off the boat, the film really picked up. Note to the wise: when your spouse is in the field with zombies everywhere, don't call them. Let them call you.
You'll thank me later.
Another factor that should be pointed out, for as gruesome a topic as zombies are, it felt as if the filmmakers went out of their way to lessen the violence to secure a PG-13 rating. Not that I'm complaining. I'm actually a big fan of implied violence, and a non-R rating can supply the means to reach out to a broader audience who may not have access to it, but the constant panning away from gore shots grew monotonous after a while. That, and the zombies themselves; they can't be any more different than from the novel, going against the very rules that Max Brooks invented.
While the story is a coin flip, the application is what redeemed this film. If you've read The Zombie Survival Guide (which I did in one sitting), subtle nuances of Max Brooks's survival techniques are scattered throughout: effective improvised weapons, amputee treatment, and most importantly: location, location, and location. Brad Pitt executed his role with a cool, level-headed approach, easily making his character one worth caring about, by far the most solid performance. Including recent phenomena, such as news clips of beached dolphins, the "Florida Zombie," and random news personalities presented a fitting touch that tied real events to the fictional buildup.
World War Z may not rise to the challenge of taking zombies to the next level, but it does offer a rather unique alternative to the "cure" element of the modern zombie formula, with some fairly believable science behind it. Having said that, this film serves to solidify the shift that zombies are taking from the realm of unexplainable horror to the acolytes of plausible science fiction, and if you recall the famous saying, "science fiction is a precursor to science fact," the implications are both fascinating and terrifying. Not to imply that "real zombies" would act as they do here.
If you can fight, fight. Help each other. Be prepared for anything.
Cosmic Cruller Rating:
* * *
Have you been itching for a good zombie flick lately? What's your favorite telling of the undead? You've heard The Zombie Song?
I'm David, and don't forget to fill your bathtub with water!