I’ve been pretty vocal here about my concerns that Marc Forster’s “World War Z” would vary so much from Max Brooks’ terrific 2006 novel that it wouldn’t possibly capture the essence of the book. And to be sure, adapting Brooks’ book faithfully would be nearly impossible.
Brooks’ book is episodic in the extreme in its record of the zombie apocalypse, moving from China to India to New York to Denver to the Great Plains. Although a narrator – writing an oral history of the zombie war from the perspective of 10 years later – is present throughout the book, nearly every chapter features new characters and a new setting. A couple of years after I read the book, some scenes stand out in my mind: A downed flier is guided through the wilderness by a mysterious voice on a radio. Astronauts watch the end of the world from the International Space Station. The military is humbled in the Battle of Yonkers.
So when the makers of “World War Z” the movie said Brad Pitt would play a U.N. troubleshooter jetting around the globe to find a means of turning back the zombie virus, I thought: Well, that might be fun, but that’s not the plot of the book.
Upon seeing “World War Z” today, I thought two things:
I want to read the book again soon.
Forster and Pitt made a pretty good end-of-the-world movie. There’s little resemblance to Brooks’ book, but it’s a pretty fun suspense thriller along the lines of “The Andromeda Strain” and “Outbreak” and “Contagion.” Maybe even like the first book in “The Strain” series.
Pitt is called out of retirement in Philly with his wife (Mirielle Enos) and daughters when the outbreak begins. At first, it’s uncertain what’s happening. Zombies? That can’t possibly be real, can it?
But the U.N, gets with the program fairly quickly and sends Pitt jetting around the world, looking for Patient Zero and clues to how to stop the epidemic. He goes from South Korea to Israel to, eventually, Wales. The last section of the movie is a pleasant change from the “Brad flies in and all hell breaks lose” feel of the first two-thirds of the movie. It’s a nail-biting “how do we get from point A to point B and avoid being bitten?” story and it’s very good.
Pitt is fine here, although the part could have been played by anyone from Will Smith to Clive Owen (two actors with plenty of apocalyptic experience).
The real highlights of the film are the suspenseful scenes leading up to a zombie outbreak and/or attack. Forster builds tension quite well and interjects some good scares.
The zombies here are not the slow walkers of George Romero’s “Living Dead” films or TV’s “The Walking Dead.” They’re not precisely like the sprinting zombies of “28 Days Later” or the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. They’re fast but they’re more like lemmings or ants, throwing themselves against barriers and off the roofs of buildings, piling up in a grinding mass in their efforts to reach their prey.
“World War Z” is a disappointment to anyone hoping for a faithful telling of Brooks’ book. But it’s a good, suspenseful action take on the end of the world.