FEARNET Movie Review: 'World War Z'

Here is a list of things you probably know about World War Z:

A. Although based on the popular Max Brooks novel World War Z, virtually nothing (besides the title and a few random ideas) from the source material has made it into the movie version.

B. This production suffered through numerous snafus, delays, and hardships, some that were caused by short-sighted producers, and others that could be chalked up to plain old bad luck.

C. The third act was scrapped at the last minute and rewritten in a big hurry.

D. The budget ballooned into something over $200 million, making this (far and away) the most expensive zombie film ever made.

E. It's rated PG-13, and while that's not always the kiss of death for a horror film, it sure as hell does not bode well for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Got all that? It's all pretty juicy and interesting stuff, especially if (like me) you're a movie buff, a horror junkie, and a huge fan of Max Brooks' source material. But when the lights go down and the titles come up, it's only fair to toss all that information out the window. All that matters is the flick itself, and with that perspective in mind, it's sort of exciting to note that, after all those headaches. headlines, and problems, Marc Forster's World War Z is actually a pretty cool movie.

Does World War Z have CGI running zombies? Yes. Does it completely avoid the infamous organ-chomping moments that are the trademark of virtually every zombie film made since 1968? Yep. Does it suffer from a few plot holes and a bit of editorial confusion because of all those juicy production problems? Certainly. But, to its legitimate credit, World War Z is also a large-scale and pretty consistently intense end-of-the-world thriller that combines action, horror, science fiction, disaster flicks, and international intrigue to strong effect. The movie doesn't exactly excel at any one of those genres, but as a rather strange patchwork quilt, there's actually quite a bit to enjoy here.

Brad Pitt plays a retired UN operative who has no choice but to re-enlist after his native town of Philadelphia (and indeed the whole world) has become infected with rampant zombie-dom. Act I (Pitt and his family try to make it to a helicopter extraction point) is a fine set-up that borrows from 28 Days Later but still gets the plot moving, Act II is where we learn that our hero must travel to Korea (and then Israel and maybe even India) in order to locate "patient zero," as this seems to be the only way to defeat the plague. The rest of the movie is Brad Pitt bolting from place to place, meeting a few cool people, and barely escaping with his life and one new clue as to where he should go next. Also there are many zombie attacks.

Again, the movie's plot is not nearly as fascinating as the "oral history" premise that was offered in the Max Brooks novel, but a movie is a movie, and World War Z offers a whole lot of movie. The zombie purists will of course scoff at the hordes of CG zombies (and probably shriek at the noted lack of visceral violence), but if it's fine for indie filmmakers to take liberties with the "zombie laws," then it's only fair when a studio flick adds a few new wrinkles of its own. (Yes, I even liked the inevitably controversial Act III, which focuses more on suspense than explosions.)

It doesn't hurt that Brad Pitt always makes for a fine hero, and the movie does give him a few sweet moments as a family man before he's shipped off to dodge zombies and save the world, but the stars of the film have to be editors Roger Barton and Matt Chesse. Given how problematic the production was, including the extensive reshoots, it's a minor miracle that World War Z not only feels like a "whole" film, but also moves forward at an appreciably brisk clip. (The "wholeness" does falter a bit in Act III, but to explain why would probably spoil a few things.)

It's still a bit disappointing that the World War Z movie looks nothing like the World War Z book, and obviously it's a shame that the flick had so many problems making it to the screen -- but if you're able to forget all the bad news you've read about World War Z and just focus on the concept, the execution, the spectacle, and the suspense, you'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. This flick will probably never make its money back, but maybe World War Z now deserves a bit of praise after getting trashed for so many months.