WORLD WAR Z (PG-13) Humanity is a virus, and it’s spreading. But not if movie star Brad Pitt has anything to say about it. Pitt plays ex-UN field agent Gerry Lane, a fiercely devoted family man whose life is turned topsy-turvy when he is caught in Philadelphia traffic with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and their daughters, as a massive hoard of zombies attack. Eventually rescued from a Newark rooftop, Lane is forced to join a group of scientists committed to curing the zombie plague from spreading further. First, they journey to South Korea (it’s believed the infestation started in North Korea), Israel and then Wales to save humanity.
The walking undead have come a long way since the Poverty Row horror of 1932’s White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi. Modern-day movies about zombies are heavily indebted to George A. Romero’s socio-political take on the subgenre with his initial, revolutionary living dead trilogy, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, as well as the stylistic, splatter-happy cheapo Italian productions from the 1980s, such as Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. This fascinating yet now all-too-familiar cinematic monster received a serious jolt of inspiration with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2002, ridding the mythos of shambling, rotting gut-munchers and transforming them into rage-drunk sprinters, forcing us to confront our fear of the howling mob like never before.
Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher) makes his own significant take on zombie cinema with World War Z (loosely based on Max Brooks’ inventive, bestselling horror novel), one-upping all previous incarnations with sometimes startling visions of the swarming undead consuming everything in their path toward total annihilation. No zombie movie has ever received such an epic telling before, and the results are surprisingly effective, considering how troubled the movie’s production was—three screenwriters are credited, though numerous others are rumored to have worked on it, and the final act had to be entirely scrapped and reshot. World War Z is not the horror masterpiece it was designed to be, but it is smart, frequently suspenseful and efficiently scary, particularly in the opening claustrophobic scenes and later during the Israeli sequences. What it also has is a surprising amount of character-driven grounding, something we don’t always get with our generic summer blockbusters. Forster is no visionary filmmaker, but he delivers a solid popcorn thriller that’s dead-on.
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