Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

world_war_z(Note: some possible spoilers)

The critics have been harsh on the movie version of World War Z, but I’m going on the record as saying it’s as good a zombie flick as you’re going to see. Perfect? No. Entertaining? Oh yeah.

Going in, I knew that it wasn’t a faithful depiction of the outstanding Max Brooks novel by the same name. So, I wasn’t expecting that, and I kept my mind open. And I’m glad I did, because WWZ had a lot to offer to the zombie genre.

The story is pretty simple: something is turning the world into zombies — like, superfast — and UN investigator Brad Pitt is the only one with a snowball’s chance in hell of finding out what, thus saving the world.

A lot of critics got hung up over the fact that we don’t really ever learn exactly what it is Pitt’s character investigates — he deflects the question every time it comes up. We know he’s seen some bad stuff around the globe, and his knowledge of the world’s bad stuff is, apparently, invaluable. And a lot of bad stuff happens in this movie. Also, it’s not quite the incoherent mishmash many of the critics have claimed. Yes, a little more back story would have been helpful. Pitt’s character wasn’t that well-developed, and his was the main character. So, as you can imagine, none of the other characters are sufficiently explored, either.

But, this movie is, really, about the zombies, and there are some interesting variations to the genre. These aren’t your George Romero and/or Walking Dead shuffling, groaning, easy-to-see-coming-and-kill zombies. These undead, created by some mysterious virus or bacteria (global warming, overcrowding, greed, etc., are all alluded to as possible causes), are lightning-fast, relentless predators. Forget those agile zombies of 28 Days Later. Imagine a flesh-eating Usain Bolt running after your helpless ass and you get an idea of what I’m talking about. The effect is terrifying. You cannot get away from these guys (unguys?). There is no stepping out into the street and drawing down on them. You better have your shit together before you even think about it. And when they spring, they do so in bunches. If you’re used to The Walking Dead variety of the undead, you’re in for a shock (and a treat).  Taking down a barn full of those zombies had a little urgency to it, but when the WWZ version swarms a street in Jerusalem, it’s like watching a raging river overflow its banks.

Also, for a zombie movie — where the gross-out is part of the show — this is a surprisingly un-gory movie, a fact I didn’t even realize until I was out of the theater. Yes, there’s a lot of biting and dying and killing going on, but the action sequences focus on the tension and the urgency of the moment — the instinct to survive trumps everything, and that instinct stays ratcheted up with the possibility of an infected undead springing out of nowhere.

I’m sure WWZ will be categorized as an action film, and it probably should be. Still, there are some genuinely scary moments, especially when the last act becomes more of a horror movie than your standard action flick (and I don’t want to get into it too much and risk running into spoiler territory). Whatever it is, it all added up to an interesting and innovative take on the zombie genre. And a hell of a lot of fun.

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