I like zombie movies. I also like Brad Pitt, so I’m disappointed that “World War Z” feels a bit dead on its feet. It has several thrilling scenes—the zombie hordes crawling over one another to scale a giant wall is really cool—but it doesn’t even have the oomph of an episode of The Walking Dead. I know zombie apocalypses happen in dimly lit places, but the low light in the first hour of the movie makes it almost impossible to see Brad laying a wupping on the undead, which is the whole reason you buy a ticket to a movie like this.
After making a pancake breakfast for his wife (The Killing’s Mireille Enos) and two kids (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove), ex United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) drives his family to school and right into the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Drawing on his years of experience in war zones he navigates them to safety before he embarks on a mission to find patient-zombie zero and a cure for the virus that has turned most of the world’s population into “Zekes.”
“World War Z” is a 3D action movie that actively tries to not show you all three dimensions of a good chunk of the action. It builds some atmosphere, but someone with some braaaaains should have paid the light bill.
On the other hand there are several big set pieces that take advantage of the film’s scope. The Jerusalem wall scene—MILD SPOILER—showing thousands of undead clamoring over one another to breach the wall is well done, well lit (!) and rather sensational. Another tense scene on an airplane really shows what a horror it is to fly in economy class. On a smaller scale a hungry zombie’s chattering teeth are a chilling part of the film’s climax.
Those sequences are standouts, but there should have been more. “World War Z” is not a movie big on character development. We learn pretty everything we’re ever going to know about Gerry in the brief kitchen scene before the escalation of the epidemic. He makes good pancakes, is compassionate and soon we learn that he also, just like Liam Neeson in “Taken,” has a special set of skills that makes him an effective zombie hunter.
That’s not much to go on, but he does look like Brad Pitt, which is enough for many people. It’s just that the movie doesn’t offer up any really great zombie one-on-one head splitting action à la “The Walking Dead,” so you would hope to care about the characters, but you don’t have any real reason to feel much for them.
“World War Z” features zombie ridden exotic settings, like South Korea, Jerusalem, Wales and even Nova Scotia–although they missed an obvious location in the Dead Sea—but without really great zombie kills or compelling characters the movie feels Undead on Arrival.