"World War Z," better known as "Brad Pitt's Troubled Zombie Movie," has been the subject of many a magazine article and blog post questioning its cost overruns, reshot ending and six-month delay. Originally scheduled for release last December, it finally arrives in theaters today. Will "World War Z," produced by Pitt for a reported $200 million, launch a sci-fi franchise as intended? Or will it go down as Pitt's "After Earth"?
Neither seems like a just fate. "World War Z," based on the novel by Max Brooks, is a smart, entertaining zombie flick that's slightly cleverer and classier than most. It adds nothing new to the genre, but what sets it apart is precisely its massive budget, big-scale effects and the unmistakable feel of studio muscle. Directed with white-knuckle efficiency by James Bond alum Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace") and written by numerous pros whose credits range from "Thor" to "Prometheus," this is a glossy, globe-hopping, star-driven action thriller. With zombies.
Pitt's charisma helps us buy the implausible character of Gerry Lane (invented for the film), a former United Nations investigator pressed into service when the zombie pandemic begins spreading. That's all there is to the plot, but "World War Z" has great fun explaining how different countries tackled the zombie problem. India went down hard, while North Korea pre-emptively yanked everyone's teeth ("social engineering," says an impressed CIA agent). As for Israel, that wall doesn't seem so controversial now.
Pitt's main co-stars are a weepy Mireille Enos as the wife Gerry longs to return to, an intriguing Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier who joins his quest and, of course, several million zombies. They move with impressive vigor, and their niftiest trick is to climb atop each other in antlike mountains. But they're also a rather gore-free bunch. The film's PG-13 rating may help sell tickets, but there's something disappointing about a zombie movie that won't show you the crowbar trapped in the skull.
Still, "World War Z" is darn good popcorn fare. That may come as a disappointment to Pitt, who seemed to have higher hopes and grander ambitions. For the rest of us, it'll do just fine.
PLOT During a zombie pandemic, a United Nations worker travels the globe looking for a cure.
RATING PG-13 (violence, language, sexuality and drug use)
CAST Brad Pitt, Daniella Kertesz, Mireille Enos
BOTTOM LINE Culturally behind the curve, but this big-budget, globe-hopping zombie flick still works as solid doomsday entertainment.
'WORLD WAR Z' BACK STORY
For much of its production life, director Marc Forster's film of "World War Z" has had another z-sound hanging over it -- buzz. Bad buzz. Delayed, pulled from the release schedule last fall for reshoots, the Brad Pitt zombie movie has been branded with the phrase "troubled production." All part of the plan, Forster jokes: "Sometimes, it's not a bad thing for people to walk in with low expectations."
Forster, the German-Swiss filmmaker who directed Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace and Stranger han Fiction, had a good reason for the release delay: "We changed the ending. The original ending was like a lot of blockbusters, a big fight with lots of explosions -- a final battle.
"I said, 'Look, I think we've already had a big battle. It would work much better with something quieter.' I wanted something more like a haunted-house type of storytelling ending. So we went for something very different, more intense, I think. I think that will set us apart among the big summer movies."
Forster says he searches for projects with a message.
" 'World War Z' has a lot to say on a sociopolitical level. The geopolitical backdrop gives it substance. It's more academic than your typical end-of-the-world horror film. Zombies have always been a great metaphor for other things -- trends in society, outcasts. And when they show up, the rest of us have to put aside our differences, don't we?"
-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service