The heartthrobs of yesteryear have still got it. I said it last year about Denzel Washington in Safe House, and I’ll reiterate the point here with Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), who scores the highest grossing debut weekend of his career with World War Z. Although Pitt has aged nicely since he first came on the scene in Thelma & Louise, it’s not really about his looks here. He’s our leading man, but I think he’s shying away from the types of roles that characterized his earlier career. The zombie storyline of World War Z is a familiar one, as television shows like The Walking Dead have become increasingly popular. The movie’s action was immediate and relentless, and I found myself quite literally on the edge of my seat.
The film begins with an introduction to Gerry Lane, a former UN employee who left the organization to spend more time with his wife (Mireille Enos, The Killing, Gangster Squad) and daughters. Within five minutes of meeting the family, the horror begins on a routine drive to school through downtown Philadelphia. While sitting in an unusual traffic jam, Gerry and his family notice that there is an unseen commotion swelling behind them. Something weird is going on. In this age of terror attacks, one can never be too careful, and this early scene was authentically unsettling.
A passing police officer gives Gerry an ominous warning to remain in his vehicle, and no sooner than he turns to leave, an out of control truck flattens him instantly. Gerry barely has time to process what has happened before nearby pedestrians begin to run from an unknown horror. As they flee, he turns to see a man convulsing and contorting his body in ungodly positions. He has a wild, diseased look in his eyes, and it is clear that this “person” is not of this world. It’s the zombie apocalypse!
The movie chronicles the zombie outbreak as it affects the entire planet, with each continent facing population extinction. Torn between remaining with his family and returning to his old job to help figure everything out, Gerry eventually decides that if he wants to help his family, he must resolve to help humanity first. Apocalyptic tales fascinate me, as they reveal much about the human psyche. When the constraints of traditional society and civilization are stripped, we see man return to his most base instincts of survival, with Darwinism prevailing. The immediacy of the zombie threat and the prospect of death created an especially terrifying climate, and the panic and fear were palpable. Pitt was an ideal protagonist: brave, resourceful and facing some tough odds – everything you’d want in a hero.
If there were any criticism to be had, it would be that things just sort of happened. There wasn’t a lot of character development, because it simply wasn’t that type of movie. There is a singular catastrophic event central to the plot, and everything else happens in furtherance of that plot. I didn’t read the book, so if the movie fell short in its interpretation; I wouldn’t know. Overall it was very good, and if you’re one of those folks who occasionally doze off during movies, rest assured – it won’t happen here. Grade: A –