GREG'S GRADE: B
Given its success and subject matter, not to mention the current craze in pop culture, a film adaptation of Max Brook's 2006 novel "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" was inevitable. But that's much easier said than done, as evidenced by the long, troubled development and production history of the movie "World War Z."
No matter who tackled it, this always was going to be a tough one. The novel, a collection of anecdotes that gives a global perspective on humanity's conflict with the undead, lacks elements essential to a movie: a central character and a narrative lending itself to the traditional three-act structure of a film.
"World War Z" the movie, directed by Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace") and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof, tells a story that could have occurred within the novel's framework until the entirely new ending, that is and somehow ends up being an effective action-thriller.
Brad Pitt, also a producer on the film, is Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. investigator leading a quiet family life in Philadelphia when the zombie pandemic begins. Rescued by his former U.N cohorts, he's quickly sent on a globe-trotting mission to find a solution to a conflict that has toppled governments and left cities around the world in ruins.
The movie essentially is a series of set pieces, following Gerry from Philadelphia to Newark, N.J., to a temporary U.N. headquarters to South Korea to Jerusalem to, finally, a World Health Organization research facility. Various characters along the way provide a bit of back story (parts of which will be familiar to book-readers), and there also is an aspect of family drama, with Gerry forced to leave behind his wife (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters.
Other than the global viewpoint, the movie adds little to zombie lore; purists will bemoan the lack of the slow-moving, shuffling undead popularized in the films of George Romero (though there is a nod to them). These zombies are more effective antagonists, and the movie is at its best as they relentlessly swarm and attack, highlighted by the breathtaking images of the undead horde climbing on top of itself to scale the wall protecting Israel. Other noteworthy sequences include a harrowing commuter flight and an ultra-tense finale at the WHO facility.
Pitt anchors the movie with a steady, workmanlike performance, and strong support comes from Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier, known only as "Segen," who gets swept up in Gerry's investigation. The subplot involving Gerry's family is a bit undercooked, but Pitt and Kertesz give us a real, human rooting interest among the carnage.
A note for the squeamish: Though there is much death and destruction, "World War Z" is surprisingly light on actual blood on the screen. Compared to a typical episode of "The Walking Dead," it's almost wholesome.
Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. 116 minutes.