Brad Pitt carries World War Z

Former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane and his family are caught in a Philadelphia traffic jam when the city suddenly erupts into chaos around them. The Lane family narrowly escapes the pandemonium and finds temporary refuge on a US navy ship. Gerry is pressed into service to investigate and find the beginning of the pandemic. He and his team must race around the world in their quest to find a cure for the zombie outbreak.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

I love spoilers. The more spoilers the merrier. I’ll try not to reveal too much but I’m very bad about blabbing out details. So if you hate spoilers then please stop now. Otherwise be warned.

WARNING! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! SPOILERS AHEAD!

I never read the World War Z book by Max Brooks. I have heard lots of complaints that the movie bears no resemblance to the book and is not as good. I know the gist of the story but since I never actually read it I was able to view the movie with an open mind. I enjoyed World War Z the movie.

I’m not a huge Brad Pitt fan but I thought he gave a great performance. Which is good since his character, Gerry Lane, is the center of the movie. Gerry Lane seems to be burdened by the things he saw and did in his past as a UN investigator. There’s a throw away line midway through the movie about how Gerry rejected his job and everyone expected him to go off and write a tell all book about his experiences. Gerry is completely enjoying his new job as a stay at home dad when the zombie pandemic suddenly erupts and engulfs his family. He is not happy when the military quickly threatens to “relocate” his family off the safety of the ship unless Gerry agrees to help find the beginnings of the virus. Brad Pitt’s Gerry reminds me a lot of one of my favorite movie characters: Dr. Grant in the 1993 dinosaur adventure, Jurassic Park. Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) was intelligent, competent, and, most of all, quietly heroic. When most movie heroes go around making as much noise as possible, Dr. Grant just went around quietly getting the jobs of survival and escape done. I’ll always remember the scene where he grabs the young girl and says “Don’t move!” as the Tyrannosaurus Rex breathes on them. Gerry Lane reminds me of that quiet competence. Gerry does not want to leave his family and be all heroic. He really does not want all the attention on him. And there are several scenes in World War Z that emphases quietness. Just as you might escape the T-rex if you are quiet and don’t move, you might also survive the zombies if you stay quiet and don’t draw their attention.

There are some great moments with the Lane family in the beginning of World War Z. But that setup actually leads to some of my biggest complaints with the movie. I would have liked to see more of the family. But after Gerry leaves them on the ship that’s pretty much it for them. I didn’t expect Gerry to drag them all around the world. But other than several scenes of his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) wandering around looking worried and depressed, you really don’t see much of the family until the reunion at the very end. The daughters seem so happy and energetic at the beginning then become almost catatonic after they land on the navy ship. Which leads me to another pet peeve. We have three children featured in the movie: the two Lane daughters and a young boy the family picks up. Two girls, one boy. Guess who gets all the scenes of crying and screaming? Guess who gets to heroically save Gerry’s life? I get tired of girls always portrayed as passive. I would much rather have seen the older daughter doing the heroic bit and saving her father’s life while the boy does some screaming.    

Once Gerry takes off on his around the world mission, the rest of World War Z reminds me of another older movie: Outbreak from 1995. Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane is nothing at all like Outbreak’s hero, Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), but the rhythm of the two movies is similar: run around and yell and scream and shoot things then hunt for clues, run around yell, shoot then hunt for clues, run around then hunt for clues. Both movies share the theme of hunting for the origin of a deadly virus though the viruses themselves are nothing alike. Both movies even have dramatic scenes involving planes and helicopters.

I enjoyed the race around the world, especially the scenes in Israel. I loved some of the other characters Gerry meets. Virologist Dr. Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel) is actually excited and having a grand old time trying to figure out the virus. A US Army Ranger in South Korea, Captain Speke (James Badge Dale), is keeping his men safe and their morale up with quiet strength and wry humor.  In Israel, Mossad agent Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken) is quietly seeing to the safety of his country (loved the theory of the “tenth man”).  Unfortunately, none of them get to stay around for long.

World War Z introduces another great character while Gerry is in Israel. Female Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz) does her duty, saves Gerry, is then saved by Gerry, and later literally carries him to his final destination. Segen is a great female character. She’s quiet and doesn’t have much to say (there’s that word again: quiet) but she’s also strong, competent, and determined. All by herself, Segen almost manages to make up for the lack of other strong, active women in the movie. Not quite, but almost.

The scenes with the soldier Segen highlight another “quiet” aspect of this movie: the lack of gore. World War Z is vastly different from The Walking Dead and almost all zombie movies in that it is almost entirely gore free. I know this is a sore point with many zombie fans. A lot of fans really love seeing decaying, blood covered zombies tearing apart their human prey with various limbs and gore flying everywhere. World War Z has absolutely none of that. These zombies are not interested in actually eating their prey, they only want to bite humans to spread the virus. So there are no gory bodies, no mangled and gnawed on limbs. We barely even see any close up biting. The lack of gore did not bother me at all. I love watching how special effects and makeups are created and how they actually work. But I don’t really like seeing a huge amount of blood spattering and spraying about. Sure, I love big explosions, dramatic car chases, rampaging monsters. But a little bit of arterial blood spray goes a long way for me. I enjoy The Walking Dead in spite of the gore not because of it. So the lack of gore in World War Z was just fine for me. At least until some of the scenes with Segen. When someone gets a limb hacked off, I expect some blood. I don’t need to see twenty minutes of sawing through flesh and bone. I don’t need to see blood spraying onto faces and splashing on walls. But I would like to see a little blood on the bandage at least.

World War Z’s finale takes place in a World Health Organization research facility in Wales. There’s another scene that reminds me of Jurassic Park. Remember when the velociraptors hunt the children through the empty kitchen? There is a similar scene in World War Z. Except that World War Z kind of blows it. In Jurassic Park, the suspense builds as the raptors hunt the children through the quiet kitchen (there’s that word again). When the raptors click their claws on the floor, the tension increases even more. But Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park’s director) knows that sometimes less can be more. And he has the raptor claws click just a very few times. He only needs a few clicks to increase the tension in an already tense scene. World War Z does not have clicking claws but it does use a similar sound to increase tension in a similarly quiet and tense scene. But World War Z does too much. Instead of a few noises to ratchet up the suspense, World War Z plays the noises way too long and actually looses some of the suspense. Gerry still has his triumphant moment but the lead up tension is lessened. His triumph is also somewhat lessened by a vastly too blatant bit of product placement. Sure, everyone gets thirsty. But Gerry could wait until he finally gets the medicine to safety before he stops for what seems like five minutes to gulp down and wave about a particular can of a particular drink.

Overall, I enjoyed World War Z. Brad Pitt did a great job of carrying the movie. I loved some of the characters but would have liked to have seen more women in action roles. I mostly liked the lack of gore but the movie did take it just a bit too far. I enjoyed the world hunt for the origins of the virus. I thought there were some stunning scenes of mass zombie action and some great scenes of quiet tension but one climatic scene flubbed its tension building sound effect. I watched the movie twice and enjoyed it both times. World War Z the movie also leaves open the possibility of more Z movies while still pretty much ending Gerry’s story.

8 thoughts on “Brad Pitt carries World War Z

  1. Havilah; good review and really in depth. I suppose with a Brad Pitt movie they have to downplay the women, ya know, just in case they look better than Pitt. I have never been crazy about him or his acting skills as a whole. While I have not watched the movie, I like a little blood and guts also. I now have this picture of clean and sterile zombies! Too weird.

  2. The movie sounds a lot more interesting than the book (which I am currently listening to). The book is pretty bad. It is all infodump, the author seems to not have met a stereotype he didn't like (blind Japanese ninjas!), and is full of cliched American bravado.

  3. To be fair, I have not read the book; however, Gen and I did watch the movie and we were both pleasantly surprised by it. Her only complaint was “it relied too much on bad CGI”. My only critique is that I wish more time was devoted to the story and less to action sequences.

  4. Havilah, have you made it clear enough that your review has spoilers? 😉 By the way, “Outbreak” had not occurred to me, nor had Jurassic Park. (Well done there.) However, the movie 28 Days Later came to mind in spots.

  5. Well the scene where the hand was chopped off was completely sterile. LOL. No blood at all on the bandage. In fact, I only counted three drops of blood -yes, that's right, three DROPS – in the whole movie. That was when Brad / Gerry wakes up after a plane crash and stares blearily at the ground as THREE little drops go plop on the ground. There were smears of blood on clothes and around wounds but smears don't really count.

  6. Oh no! I'll go right back and add more warnings! Would twenty more do it? How about twenty-five? ;-D I once had a guy scold me for describing a scene in a TV commercial. Since I love spoilers I tend not to really notice when I'm blabbing something. I try to be mindful of people who like to stay spoiler-free. I did think of 28 Days Later, especially when the father gets infected blood in his eye and his quick change. In WWZ, Brad / Gerry perches on the very edge of a building's roof after he gets infected blood on him while he waits to see if he'll change.

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