Not being a big fan of zombies — either real or imaginary — I can’t claim expertise as to the quality of zombie movies. My only impression of them probably stems from “Night of the Living Dead,” a classic from another era. So I was taken a bit aback to learn that “World War Z,” Brad Pitt’s latest star vehicle, was a zombie flick. After all, I reasoned, Pitt can’t be doing it for the money, and it hardly seems like the kind of thing the glamorous star has been associated with during his wildly successful career.
Curiously, Pitt — who also co-produced the movie — appears here as a family man and is, for much of its length, unshaven and grubby. The love scenes involve hugging his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters, and we hardly see him less than fully clothed. He does shoot and smack a few people, both the living and the undead, yet the Big Moment here involves his just standing very still.
Let it be said that there is plenty of action along the way to this static moment, as well as plenty after it. After all, Pitt is playing one Gerry Lane, a former UN troubleshooter whose current mission is to save the planet from a zombie apocalypse. He’s a reluctant hero, at best: the government must threaten his family to get him to agree to face the invading stiffs.
Director Marc Forster starts the story out on an ordinary day in the Lane family kitchen, Gerry flipping pancakes and getting the kids ready for school while the TV news tells that, as usual, the world is going to hell all around us while we blithely ignore our part in the destruction. But when they get caught in a massive traffic jam in downtown Philadelphia, Gerry quickly discerns that something untoward is going on.
A phone call from the Deputy Secretary General of the UN informs him that some sort of, er, virus, probably starting in South Korea is being spread by airline passengers worldwide. The search for the source and a cure takes Gerry to Korea, Jerusalem, and Wales. Along the way, Gerry picks up several clues, largely by keeping his cool while all around him people are losing theirs. For those who lust for them, the film has lots of car chases, shootings, airplane crashes, bombings, and grisly deaths. Not to ruin the ending but — humanity survives, though only by the hardest, and with an admonition for the future. If the solution is a mite too pat, well, hey, it’s a zombie movie!
Pitt (whose off screen life has demonstrated commitment to good causes) and Forster demonstrate a remarkable restraint in stating the moral, as the film has earlier in depicting the zombie plague. Eschewing what could easily have been a gore fest, the film earns a “PG-13” rating for “intense, frightening zombie sequences, violence, and disturbing images.” I can’t recommend it for the young, but teens and adults may well find it rises slightly above the genre technically — especially in the Jerusalem sequence — and thematically. It’s a Big Summer Movie, okay, but one that wants to be remembered.