Officially, the term ‘zombie’ refers to a re-animated corpse resurrected by mystical means, such as witchcraft, or more commonly, voodoo. They seemed to originate in West Africa as well as Creole/Carribbean traditions. Zombies have a long and storied cinema history beginning with 1932’s White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi. It is regarded as the first legitimate zombie film, and uses the voodoo theme for its zombies. In 1968, George A. Romero brought zombies back to the forefront with the release of his Night of the Living Dead (it was also significant in that it had a black hero in actor Duane Jones's Ben – which was uncommon at the time). Essentially a group of people take refuge in a farm house and attempt to fend off an attack by reanimated corpses who are out to eat brains.
Drifting away from the mystical origins, a more virus-based origin has been popularized lately due to 28 Days Later, the Resident Evil movies/games - and most recently The Walking Dead (the graphic novels of which were published prior to 28 Days Later release, so while the openings to both were similar - you can argue about which came first).
This explanation, while still giving zombies a supernatural flair, makes them far more believable. It has also led to the idea of a ‘zombie apocalypse’, in which the outbreak spreads so quickly that society and government breaks down, leaving survivors to struggle to stay alive in small groups.
World War Z started as a book that was released in 2006. It was several accounts of the zombie war by various survivors across the globe. It was optioned to turn into a movie by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company in 2006, but then went through many script issues between then and when filming began in 2011. Because the book is a collection of first account tales, turning into a movie proved difficult. It was originally supposed to be released on 12/21/12, but got pushed back to June of 2013. This also changed the tone of the movie, as they originally wanted a mainly small character driven drama, and it is now more of summer action movie.
Gerry Lane is an ex-UN investigator who has retired from his job to spend more time with his family. He and his wife are driving with their children in Philadephia when scene you’ve seen in every trailer happens. There is mass panic and a lot of running as zombies begin to take over the city. The audience shares Gerry’s point of view as he notices what is happening, and counts a 10 second time lapse on the transition of those bitten. As they escape, one of the daughters is having an asthma attack, so they stop at a drugstore that is being big-time looted to pick up some medication. While in there, they split up (what? Have they never seen any horror movie?) to gather supplies. A very creepy dude with a gun is hanging out in the pharmacy – who is apparently the pharmacist. He gives them the medicine and slowly backs up into the shadows. Meanwhile, the other daughter is screaming while crashing through the store in a shopping cart – because the wife is being attacked. Gerry shoots the attacker, only to have a cop come towards him, but then ignore him, as he is there to grab supplies. Sorry for the unnecessary details about this scene – but it was disturbing and weird; well done, just weird. The RV they stole has been stolen so they head to some nearby apartment buildings. They take refuge in an apartment with a couple and their young son. They spend the night there, as Gerry gets in touch with his former boss, the Deputy Secretary of the UN, who is sending a helicopter to pick them up. Gerry tries to get the family to come with them, but they refuse. They head up to the roof as the zombies swarm up the staircase.
They are airlifted to a fleet of ships, where Gerry’s boss asks for his help. Gerry declines, saying he needs to stay with his family; however, he’s told that there’s no room on the ship for extra bodies, and his family will be put back into the city unless he helps. He meets with Dr. Fassbach, who is convinced the outbreak it viral. He takes a satellite phone and gives another to his wife, promising to call her every day. They head to South Korea, where a memo with the word ‘zombie’ originated. Upon arrival, Dr. Fassbach promptly accidentally shoots himself (well, he proved useless – thank goodness he explained some things on the flight over) and Gerry meets with soldiers who explain what they witnessed. He then encounters a half-crazed (or all crazed) CIA prisoner who is rambling that North Korea is safe, because they all removed their teeth (no teeth = no biting = no spread of the virus). He also says that there is a doctor in Jerusalem who knew it was coming – and that Jerusalem built a wall around the city – and they are safe. Gerry gets back in his plane and heads to Jerusalem. He finds Dr. Jurgen Warmbrunn who built a wall; because he received word that in India they were fighting the ‘undead’.
The wall keeps the dead out, but as more survivors are coming in, they are getting louder and louder, attracting the zombies to a specific point at the wall, at which point they build that impressive zombie pile you’ve seen in all the trailers (at least it makes more sense in the movie, because they’re drawn by the sound). They spill over the top, wiping out the city. Gerry escapes with the help of Segen, an Israeli soldier who gets bitten on the hand, but he cuts off her hand to stop the spread of the infection. As they run for the airport, he notices zombie swarms avoiding select individuals.
They board the plane; he re-dresses her wound, and instructs the pilot to head to a W.H.O. facility in Wales, because he’s forming an idea on how to deal with this. Things are going well until a stray zombie is revealed to be hiding in the airplane dumbwaiter, and it immediately begins infecting people from the back of the plane forward in a truly exciting and terrifying scene. He and Segen throw a grenade after strapping in; blowing a hole in the airplane that sucks the zombies out into the air. They crash, they survive, except that he gets a large metal bit shoved through his abdomen. They walk to the W.H.O. building (apparently they knew exactly where they crashed and how to get to the building). They arrive, he collapses, and he wakes up three days later. Meanwhile, on the ship, Thierry (Gerry’s boss) realizes they’ve lost the plane, and they don’t hear from Gerry – so the wife and kids are sent to a camp in Nova Scotia. Gerry wakes up, and explains that his thought is to infect people with a disease, because the zombies are basically a virus that is looking for a healthy host, so they completely ignore sick or ailing people. The W.H.O. staff agree it’s a good plan, except that all their virus samples are down in the other wing, which is filled with zombies (of course). Gerry, Segen, and one of the W.H.O. doctors head down into the wing to get the samples. Segen and the doctor draw all the zombies away, while Gerry gets to the virus room, but can’t get out because there’s a zombie at the door – clicking its teeth in a comical manner (really?). He infects himself with something (SARS, or H1N1, we’re not sure), but then is able to walk past all the zombies. We then get a final montage of soldiers now able to walk amongst the zombies and kill them while Gerry takes a boat to his family – with his voice over that “this isn’t the end”.
Director Marc Forster has previously done Machine Gun Preacher, Quantum of Solace, Stranger than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster’s Ball. He does a good job with this movie, and I really enjoyed when we got to see things through Gerry’s point of view as he observes things about the zombies, how they behave, and how they turn. I thought that was unique and interesting. I really enjoyed the global aspect of the movie, and following Gerry as he followed the clues around the globe. So – my favorite parts were the things I am unable to see on the Walking Dead weekly. As fascinating as the swarms of zombies were, I sometimes felt the CGI wasn’t that believable. For a movie this large, the cast was relatively small.
· Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane – Pretty Boy Pitt does a good job in this, making Gerry’s devotion to his family his first and foremost concern, but also making his detective work sharp and interesting to follow. Whether or not you believe Pitt to be an amazing actor, he’s always capable, and I found him better in this than he has been in a long while.
· Mireille Enos plays Gerry’s wife, and does a fine job, but again, spends the majority of the movie just waiting around to hear from Gerry, looking sad and worried, and calling him at really inopportune times – like when he’s trying to quietly sneak past some zombies.
· Daniella Kertesz plays Segen and was one of the best parts of the movie. She doesn’t have a ton to do, but plays every bit the soldier, facing the threat head on.
· James Badge Dale who stole a few scenes earlier this year in Iron Man 3 as Savin plays Captain Speke, the soldier holding down the fort in South Korea after sending the initial zombie memo. He does a good job, but again – almost nothing to do.
· Ludi Boeken plays Israeli doctor Jurgen Warmbrunn who decided to build the wall after the word about the undead came out of India. His job is all exposition, but I found it all very interesting, so I liked him by default.
· Fana Mokoena plays Thierry Umutoni and previously worked with Marc Forster on Machine Gun Preacher. He is sympathetic to Gerry’s plight, but also helps keep him focused. Very believable as the head of the UN, but does give up on Gerry pretty quickly once they lose word on the plane.
· David Morse is almost always great when he shows up (check him out in Proof of Life or The Long Kiss Goodnight again) – and he’s got maybe a 5 minute scene in this movie, but he’s toothless and creepy. But he is the one who points Gerry to Israel, so he is important.
· Pierfrancesco Favino plays the W.H.O Doctor who goes with Gerry and Segen down into the infested half of the building. He does a good job playing a dude who accidentally makes a ton of noise when trying to sneak past zombies.
All in all, I liked the movie – I didn’t love it. It was odd seeing a PG13 zombie movie. There is far more blood and gore on the Walking Dead than in this movie. There are plenty of ‘boo’ scare moments as zombies pop out of unexpected (or expected) places. It was fun to see in a theater full of people. It was fascinating seeing the global scale, but parts of the movie were poorly explained. It was also fun to see Brad Pitt back in an action movie. You can of course, argue that the Walking Dead does everything this movie attempts to do, but better - and weekly. Again, the parts of it I thought were best were the things you don't get to see on the Walking Dead - the global scale of the infection.
7 out of 10 – not too bad. Gained points for the scope, lost points for the questionable CGI here and there. Gained points for the random Matthew Fox – and I mean random. Lost points for David Morse’s toothlessness – ick.
Bonus Video 1: 28 Days Later - crazy intense and scary:
Bonus Video 2: Resident Evil – super fun zombie entertainment.
Bonus Video 3: Thriller – the best zombies ever?
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: