World War Z (2013)

When There’s No Room Left in Hell, The Dead Will Walk the Multiplex!

Once relegated to the lowest budget realm of the drive-in, grindhouse and dusty shelves of Mom and Pop video stores the zombie movie finally enters the big leagues with the $200 million Summer tent-pole release of World War Z. Based on a best selling novel, this zombie epic comes to theaters with an A-list star, Brad Pitt and a respected director, Mark (“Quantum of Solace”) Foster. George Romero’s progeny have truly taken over the world.

Of course, with great budget comes great financial responsibility. Where Romero, Lucio (“Zombie”) Fulci and the other mostly Italian exploitation directors who started the zombie movie plague in the 1970’s amped up the grizzly gore, gut munching and brain eating, “World War Z” must appease the popcorn crunching crowd. Thus Foster’s would-be blockbuster is a nearly bloodless, PG-13 apocalypse.

Okay, but is it any good? Will fans of the much bloodier and grittier, “The Walking Dead,” want to leave the comfort of their home theaters and pay for the premium multiplex ticket to see what $200 million buys the ravenous zombie fan if it’s not going towards blood and guts? Maybe. Stick with me here.

First, let me admit to not having read the book, so this review in no way can tell you how it compares to the novel. I walked in completely cold, only having seen the same movie trailers that most of you have seen. I am a die hard fan of the zombie genre, however, having seen Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” for the first time in a hotel room on the night of my Senior Prom. I was the only one not passed out on the floor or the bed when Romero’s masterpiece changed my life. As soon as the credits rolled, I woke up my best friend at about 4AM and he watched the entire movie with me for the second time! I saw “Day of the Dead” during it’s theatrical release and an opening night screening of “Return of the Living Dead” remains my absolute favorite theatrical experience.

What “World War Z” must rely on to make up for the lack of visceral carnage is tension and scope, and director Mark Foster delivers both in spades. Instead of the usual siege scenario, Foster delivers a globe hopping adventure that spans several continents in the search for the cure to the zombie virus. Brad Pitt again proves why he’s a movie star, delivering a charismatic and humanistic performance as ex-United Nations agent, Gerry Lane, that solidly grounds the movie and gives the audience a hero worth rooting for.

The film begins with Lane and his family taking a vacation that lands them in stand still traffic in Philadelphia when the zombie pandemic hits and all Hell breaks loose. Using his past training and survival skills, he manages to get his family out of the city, and a phone call to his ex-employees allows for their rescue. However, in order to guarantee their place in safety as “essential personnel,” Lane must accept a life-or-death mission into the hot zone to find a cure.

The zombie plague in this movie isn’t like the ones in Romero’s classic shuffling corpses flicks, but more like the virus depicted in “28 Days Later” and its sequel. The undead don’t actually eat the living, but instead are driven to spread the virus through their bite, and the transformation to raging freak only takes 11 seconds. After getting bitten, the victim becomes part of a living mass of undead that behave somewhat like an ant colony, climbing over each other to get to the next victim. This leads to several spectacular set-pieces where the undead become like a living tidal wave of death. There are several back-to-back white knuckle sequences in city streets and alleys, building tops and even inside an airplane.

Leaked word on the streets is that “World War Z” was a troubled production, and that the final third of the movie was completely re-written and re-shot after production had initially wrapped. I’m not sure what the original ending entailed, but it seems that they decided to scale things back for the finale. I suppose there wasn’t much hope in topping the massive action scenes that take place earlier in the movie, so the filmmakers seem to have decided upon a smaller, more claustrophobic pressure cooker of tension climax instead of a massive battle. While the suspense level is reasonably high, I couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed that film ends with more of a whisper than a scream. This same dilemma upset a lot folks in Steven Spielberg’sWar of the Worlds,” and may upset the same demographic here.

Ultimately, I had a pretty good time with “World War Z.” Unlike a couple of the other big Summer movies this season which have left me slightly disappointed, “World War Z” actually met my expectations and maybe even exceeded them a little bit. It’s not going to go down in history as one of the best zombie films in the genre, but the tension in my neck and the sweat of my palms during my two hours in the theater is testimony to the film’s effective delivery in spite of its PG-13 rating.

The Phantom of The Ville

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