Review: 'World War Z' finds new life in zombie genre

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With the abundance of zombies in popular culture ranging from a smash TV series to the popularity of "corpses" walking in 5K races and pub crawls, the viral sensation known as the zombie culture is getting awfully close to running its course. But thanks to a slightly different take on phenomenon with "World War Z," the genre has managed to live another day.

The movie is based on Max Brooks' best-selling novel, which is essentially a compilation of journal entries chronicling a zombie pandemic across the globe. The film version of "World War Z," however, tells the story solely from the point-of-view of Gerry Lane (Pitt), a former United Nations investigator who is trying to find some semblance of a normal life in Philadelphia with his wife, Karin ("The Killing" star Mireille Enos) and two young daughters.

But the peace doesn't last long when chaos breaks out in the streets of Philly, as hordes of people thought to be infected with rabies begin to attack everybody in their path. Soon, it is exposed that the undead attackers are zombies, and the incidents on the East Coast are merely a small part of a pandemic that has spread worldwide.

Contacted by his former UN boss, Gerry and his family manage to avoid the unrelenting onslaught of attacks and find refuge on an aircraft carrier with other government officials and military heavies.

Initially adamant about remaining his family, Gerry is pressured to leave them behind to travel far and wide to track down the source of the outbreak -- the only alternative to prevent his family from being kicked off the vessel to fend for themselves. Accompanied by a band of Navy SEALs, Gerry's first stop, in North Korea, becomes merely the first step in a chaotic journey that will take him all over the globe, and time and hope is running out fast.

See my review of the film on KARE 11 with Bryan Piatt below.

The fact that "World War Z" made it to the big-screen at all is a wonder. Plagued by production nightmares, reported in-fighting and a complete rewrite of the film's third act, the film surprisingly emerges as taut thriller that saves face for Pitt, who is also one of the film's producers.

That's not to say "World War Z" is perfect film -- it's far from it -- but it's great to see that Pitt, director Marc Forster and pinch-hitter writers Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard had the fortitude to finish the film instead of throwing up their hands and releasing a piece of garbage.

Judging from the film's spectacular opening act, it's easy to see why they thought "World War Z" was a film worth saving. The intensity is incredible, especially when you realize that these zombies aren't the lumbering type. They best could be likened to the zombies in director Zack Snyder's fantastic remake of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," who come at their victims with speed and fury.

Also, notably, these zombies aren't flesh eaters, and seem more intent on biting their victims to spread the infection. Obviously, the filmmakers were going for the widest possible audience to secure a PG-13 rating, so the gore factor is low. Yes, the attacks are violent and there's lots of implied carnage off-screen, but given the amount of blood and guts you get on AMC with "The Walking Dead," the filmmakers could have likely gotten away with a lot more.

Instead, Forster relies more on the power of suggestion, and quite frankly, it's a welcome move away from gory scenes being staged simply for shock value.

While the gnarly-looking zombies and their unnerving squeals hold up throughout, "World War Z" slowly starts to come apart at the seams after the film's first act, as the burden on Gerry's shoulders becomes heavier and heavier. Pitt, after all, is the only recognizable star in "World War Z" apart from Enos (who is woefully underused), so not surprisingly he's at the center of nearly every scene and clearly labeled as the only person who can save the day.

Unfortunately, despite some fascinating plot turns, even Pitt eventually falls victim to the film's implausible if not completely ridiculous action scenes, where you swear he's become a comic book superhero given the way he miraculously survives time and again the most dire of circumstances.

True, "World War Z" is a science fiction film and the suspension of disbelief is expected going in, but even the most open minded fans of the genre are bound to utter "gimme a break" at one point of another. It's too bad the film is asking our brains to take a time out to help the film along to its conclusion, because for the most part, "World War Z" clearly respects the intelligence of the audience. It's a zombie movie with above-average brains.

"World War Z," rated PG-13, 2 1/2 stars out of four

See the trailer for "World War Z" below.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 3 stars, saying while the final action scene in particular "requires a major suspension of disbelief," the film is "a smart and mostly satisfying blockbuster with the soul of a paranoid thriller."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune also gives the film 3 stars, noting while the film "flirts with pretentiousness, and the ending is unduly abrupt," on the level of "pure sensation" it’s "smashingly effective."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed more than 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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