“Movement is life.”
So says Brad Pitt, as the hero of the zombie epic World War Z, to a family he’s urging to evacuate. Director Marc Forster certainly seems to have taken this maxim to heart. Whatever else one can say about this adaptation of the Max Brooks novel, it can’t be called slow-paced. From beginning credits to end credits, the action is pretty close to non-stop.
Death seems to be movement, too—these zombies aren’t old-school slow plodders. In the early scenes, we see Pitt and his wife and daughters flee the viral horde from Philly to Newark, while their undead pursuers run and lunge and leap like wildcats, and charge headlong at their prey so heedlessly that they plummet right off the sides of buildings.
What we don’t see is those spry zombies tearing their victims up, or shedding much blood. They don’t seem, even, to be cannibals, just biters. World War Z, rated PG-13, is the least gory zombie movie I’ve ever seen (though I haven’t seen Warm Bodies). There are no dismemberments or disembowelments; a hand gets chopped off in one scene, but it happens out of frame. Gore enthusiasts may be disappointed by this, but Forster is admirably deft in keeping the splatter offscreen, and the result isn’t really a horror movie. It’s an action-adventure picture, and a fairly exciting one.
Once he’s gotten his family to relative safety, poor Pitt, who’s some sort of vaguely-defined UN investigator, must dodge the ghouls from South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales in search of the key to the plague. He’s very good here—not jaw-droppingly good, like he was as Jessie James or in Moneyball or The Tree of Life. The role is too conventional and underwritten. It’s just a good-guy leading man part, but he executes it with skill, and he gets plenty of support from a large and fine international cast, which includes Peter Capaldi, Ruth Negga and the always cool-looking Pierfancesco Favino as researchers, Mirielle Enos in the thankless role of Pitt’s wife and, for a single creepy monologue about North Korea’s response to the zombie problem, David Morse.
One other actor deserves a nod: Michael Jenn, who plays a twitchy, snappy zombie that besieges Pitt in a hospital lab, turns his small role into an audience-pleasing showcase of grotesque comedy. Also, toward the end there’s a very clever product placement—a soft drink brand comes to the rescue. As with Roland Emmerich’s 2012, apparently even the Apocalypse can’t stop commercials.