There is no doubt that World War Z was a pet project for Brad Pitt. The actor acquired the rights to the novel (written by Max Brooks) through his production company Plan B Entertainment, subsequently serving as a Producer as well as taking on the leading role in the zombie action film. Directed by Marc Forster, whose eclectic filmography includes the likes of Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Quantum of Solace, World War Z sees the world in a state of chaos as an ever growing horde of rabid zombies swarm through cities across the globe with nobody able to identify how it began or how it can be stopped. It needs to be said that this is an action film first and foremost with little in common with the myriad zombie narratives that have gone before it.
The zombies in this film move with astonishing speed, as opposed to the lumbering movement that we more typically associate with such characters. There are attempts to explain this in the film, but the reality is that it is simply a more effective way to produce the sense of chaos and panic needed to drive the narrative. This film most resembles the likes of Contagion or Outbreak as opposed to Night of the Living Dead or any of the hundreds of zombie flicks that have followed in its wake. The film is essentially about one man’s quest to find a cure for a virus that, once transmitted, instantaneously transforms the infected into a zombie, for want of a better word.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a United Nations investigator who is charged with the task of sourcing the cause of the outbreak and devising a solution before the planet is overrun with the walking (running) dead. Initially reluctant to get involved, it is only the threat of his family being denied protection by the military that sparks Lane into action. Lane treks from his home in Philadelphia, where he is seemingly happy playing house husband, to New York, New Jersey, South Korea and Israel before arriving at a World Health Organisation research facility in Wales, but not before emerging as one of just two survivors from a spectacular plane crash. The scenes in the walled city of Jerusalem are particularly impressive and it is here that Lane witnesses something that ultimately leads him to a potential solution; albeit only a way to stop any further spread of the virus rather than a cure for the infected.
Once in Wales, Lane and his trusty sidekick – an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz – have to overcome a small group of zombies that occupy part of the research facility to ultimately save the day. This is Pitt’s film so, needless to say, Lane emerges unscathed as the hero of the piece. Whilst this was a troubled production across a six-year span, Forster has done a good job in constructing a film that is entertaining and engaging despite the ludicrousness of the premise. Pitt is very effective in the lead role, with everybody else confined to bit parts, although Kertesz is fine and David Morse is almost unrecognisable as an imprisoned former CIA agent.
After all the good work that goes before it, the ending is a major disappointment. We never really find out if the zombie hordes are contained and whether Lane’s globetrotting heroics have been worthwhile. Furthermore, we are suddenly struck with a voiceover from Pitt (as Lane) that accompanies a schmaltzy sequence in which Lane is reunited with his family. Other than this final scene that smacks of compromise or a lack of vision, World War Z is a very effective entry into the epidemic-action oeuvre.