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World War Z Movie Review

World War Z (2013) movie poster World War Z

Theatrical Release: June 21, 2013 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Marc Forster / Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screen story & screenplay); Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof (screenplay); J. Michael Straczynski (screen story); Max Brooks (novel)

Cast: Brad Pitt (Gerry Lane), Mireille Enos (Karin Lane), Daniella Kertesz (Segen), James Badge Dale (Captain Speke), Ludi Boeken (Jurgen Warmbrunn), Matthew Fox (Parajumper), Fana Mokoena (Thierry Umutoni), David Morse (Ex-CIA Agent), Elyes Gabel (Andrew Fassbach), Peter Capaldi (WHO Doctor), Pierfrancesco Favino (WHO Doctor), Ruth Negga (WHO Doctor), Moritz Bleibtreu (WHO Doctor), Sterling Jerins (Constance Lane), Abigail Hargrove (Rachel Lane), Fabrizio Zacharee Guido (Tomas)

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World War Z is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray 3D combo.

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Zombie apocalypses appear to be at an all-time high in contemporary fiction. Some are played for laughs (Warm Bodies).
Others aim for long-term devotion ("The Walking Dead"). World War Z takes a different approach, hoping the material lends to a widely-appealing summer blockbuster. But not your typical blockbuster, because this film comes from director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball, but more recently Quantum of Solace) and stars Brad Pitt, an actor with his pick of Hollywood's litter who generally avoids bad and mindless movies.

World War Z is neither bad nor mindless, which seems something of a miracle based on its production history. Intended to open Christmas 2012, the film was delayed and, amidst publicized studio concerns, subjected to drastic rewrites and reshoots. It now arrives at the height of the busy summer popcorn movie season with uncertain commercial prospects but much better buzz than expected.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family find themselves in the middle of Philadelphia chaos in "World War Z."

The film is loosely adapted from a novel by Max Brooks, the son of comedy legend Mel Brooks and the late Academy Award-winning actress Anne Bancroft. Despite his lineage and the fact that zombies have lent themselves remarkably well to postmodern irony, Brooks' book is apparently a serious novel and one you wouldn't expect to see turned into a PG-13 aspiring blockbuster. That is what it looks like, despite counting Pitt and the decorated Graham King (Argo, Hugo, The Departed) among its producers. In reality, that pedigree means more than the timing and moviegoers should expect a movie more on the order of I Am Legend than Independence Day.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a United Nations worker whose harrowing experiences have passed, allowing him to enjoy retirement pleasures like making daily pancakes for his wife Karin ("The Killing"'s Mireille Enos) and their two young daughters (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins). But during one morning's commute, the Philadelphia family finds themselves in the middle of chaos. Not given the film's title (and I don't believe the Z-word is ever uttered), the Lanes aren't clear what the problem is, but they do seek safety and utilize Gerry's survival skills. The UN soon sends a helicopter to retrieve the foursome on the rooftop of a Newark apartment building. Military officials are taking the sudden, sweeping global pandemic seriously as they look for vulnerabilities in this rapid outbreak thought to be either viral or bacterial.

The UN agrees to keep the Lanes safe only on the condition that Gerry gets back in the thick of the action, as he joins other armed soldiers from various branches to defend and speculate. From there, it's off to Israel, where officials have thought to build a high, surprisingly effective wall to keep the bloodthirsty infected at bay. An important man (Ludi Boeken) explains why Israel prepared for the threat, having ignored major warning signs on past calamities. Gerry teams up with "Segen" (Daniella Kertesz), a young short-haired Israeli soldier whose life he saves on a whim. She returns the favor and brings him to a secure WHO facility where he thinks he might have the answer to the world's pressing problem.

On a plane, Gerry (Brad Pitt) tends to an Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) whose life he saved. Gerry (Brad Pitt) wields a hatchet against hordes of zombies he expects to encounter.

More "film" than "movie", World War Z will surprise some viewers and disappoint those looking for conventional structure and conflict. Its plot probably doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, but Forster keeps things engaging, suspenseful, and fast.

I was surprised by the abrupt closing's arrival, following not an obligatory effects-loaded action climax but a display of courage and mental fortitude.

Those who feel a faithful adaptation of the book (which this evidently is not) clearly warranted an R rating might be pleased by the portrayal of the zombies, which though bloodless is anything but safe and family-friendly. Kids will likely be shaken by these unsettling undead characters, which is a fundamental experience in any cinematic upbringing.

I appreciate that Forster and the three credited screenwriters (Joe Carnahan's brother and "Lost" alumni Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof) do something different than expected for a film of this scale. At the same time, they are probably committing commercial suicide, making a $200 million zombie movie that isn't full of battle scenes, fast cars, and weaponry. I foresee near-universally negative IMDb message board threads and a user rating that creeps to the low 6s within a year (if it even takes that long), as detractors passionately bemoan plot and logic holes.

I will admit WWZ, though much better than I feared, wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. It's a tad below Pitt's usual high caliber and his second consecutive project to be so (third if you're goofy enough to count Happy Feet Two).

Before zombies were everywhere, a decent effort like this may have really struck a chord, but today, World War Z feels like a few ideas (or characters) short of fully satisfying.

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Reviewed June 21, 2013.

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