“Z” is Grade-A Fun
By Carl Kozlowski
It’s easy to dismiss zombie movies as no-brainer schlock in which mass numbers of the undead seek out human brains for sustenance, while said humans employ any number of weapons to save themselves from certain death and destruction. But done correctly, whether in writer-director George Romero’s seemingly unending series of movies launched by Night of the Living Dead, or in director Ruben Fleischer’s darkly hilarious Zombieland, the genre can provide some unpredictable films.
Add World War Z to that list. Despite taking seven years to develop and make, and with rumors swirling across Hollywood that it was a disaster in the making, this new epic starring Brad Pitt as a United Nations epidemiologist trying to stop a worldwide zombie attack while protecting his family is an expertly made combination of effects extravaganza and personal drama.
The story follows family man Gerry Lane (Pitt), a retired UN epidemics expert who is forced back to work when a mysterious virus causes a rapidly spreading worldwide plague that turns people into zombies, which then indiscriminately attack and infect others. Lane has to leave his wife and two young daughters behind on a US Navy warship to keep them safe while he jets across the globe to find solutions at attack epicenters in South Korea, Israel and finally Scotland, all the while fighting off undead creatures.
Those hordes come after Pitt and the humans in all manner of inventive ways, with battles taking place from the walls of Jerusalem and the mysterious halls of a vaccine research facility to a battle onboard a jetliner a mile high in the air. The tension is perfectly balanced with some hilarious one-liners and surprising mishaps that are sure to give audiences a chance to breathe while laughing.
While the zombie effects are gruesome and the movie is packed with massive attacks by zombies and the humans’ need to shoot them down, World War Z maintains a distinctive human element throughout that keeps it engaging on an emotional level as well. Establishing Gerry as a family man from the start gives viewers a reason to root strongly for him and to worry about the fates of him and his loved ones. Astonishing special effects are no doubt CGI, but they maintain a grittiness that keeps the zombies realistic throughout, no matter how large their numbers.
The key here is likely director Marc Forster, who expertly directed emotionally driven indie movies like Monsters Ball and The Kite Runner before becoming an action director with the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Here, Forster combines his strengths from both types of movies.
In addition, the movie’s four writers are all experts when it comes to top-level science-fiction productions, including the TV series Lost and the movie Cloverfield. They know how to wring out maximum terror while avoiding overly graphic blood and guts violence, keeping the language almost completely clean, and leaving out any pointless sex or nudity. That means World War Z might be too terrifying for young kids, but it’s Jurassic Park—style fun for teens and adults. Go see it.