Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN operative who traded in troubleshooting austere environments for the quiet, good life. It’s made clear pretty early that Lane is no stranger to some of the most dangerous places on earth. However, he now spends his mornings with his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) sipping Earl Grey and cooking pancakes for his two young girls (Abigale Hargrove, Sterling Jerins). But that all changes with a drive through the streets of Brotherly Love. It always does. The pleasant Sunday morning-like drive turns deadly, as enraged citizens start savagely attacking others. Count to 12 and you could miss it. Lane and company don’t know it yet, but it’s the beginning of the Zombie pandemic, easily capable of toppling all of humanity.
After a pretty suspenseful sequence, Lane and his family are whisked away by a UN helo, thanks to a quick phone call to Lane’s former colleague Thierry (Fana Mokoena). After landing on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic, Thierry tries to convince Lane to join their cause. Lane almost immediately declines. He doesn’t want to leave his family. But when a Navy commander (David Andrews) intervenes, it quickly turns to blackmail. Cue the reluctant hero. If they can find Patient Zero — the point of origin — they might be able to find and develop a cure.
World War Z is really the story of two films. The first (acts one and two) feature Lane, reinstated as a globetrotting investigator, making stops in South Korea and Jerusalem. The pace of the film is quick. It’s rather goreless, but it has all the makings of a tense geopolitical action thriller. We bare witness to Lane piecing together the zombie pandemic puzzle. The second (act three) crash lands — literally — into a cheesy contained horror. Lane, along with a handful of doctors and a Israli soldier, creep around the halls of a World Health Organization lab, which may or may not hold the secret to humanity’s salvation. Although the first two acts aren’t bad, the film completely drops off the table in the third. It’s totally out of tune with the rest of the film.
Fans of Max Brooks‘ 2006 best-selling novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, will have plenty of disappointments. The novel was written as a series of postwar interviews conducted by Lane with people all over the world. To give you a better visual, it would’ve vaguely resembled something like All the President’s Men meets Contagion. But, no, we’re stuck with an adaptation — a very loose one at that. Which rarely, if ever, feels like a film directed by Marc Forster, which it was. You’ll find little of what made Monster’s Ball, Stay, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Kite Runner so compelling in World War Z. The film is more closely in line with something off Roland Emmerich’s resume. While I’m sure it wasn’t Forster, or Pitt for that matter, who chose quantity over quality, and intensity over tension — regardless, it simply doesn’t work.
As far as real-world thrillers go, a sense of urgency is a must. As is a combination of tragic loss and horrific grief. Or at the very least, the threat of either of the two. Lane’s family is never really in harms way, and other than the beginning sequence — and some moments in the third act — we get very little tension, and never enough to really give a shit. Aside from Pitt’s half bleeding heart liberal, half tough guy, the film is filled with no-name actors — for the most part — portraying characters we’re never given any particular reason to care about. And so we end up caring about no one.
World War Z begins with some sharp thrills, and features some engaging set pieces, namely the siege of Jerusalem. However, much like the overall arch of the film’s undead, by the time the end credits roll, the pulse is very, very weak.
Brad Pitt, the zombie apocalypse, mega-blockbuster…all that aside, this is a very difficult movie to connect with.