By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 19, 2013 at 2:34PM
Brit Idris Elba has now seen the film, and had an appreciative tweet for it: "I just saw World War Z and it was a decent approach to the genre... Best zombie acting I've seen... And I've been in a zombie film..."
Here’s the oddest element in this tale of Hollywood fine-tuning run rampant: the movie is pretty good — the summer’s most urgent, highest-IQ action picture. The movie hurtles authoritatively from Philly to Newark to an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic to South Korea to Israel to Wales, like Richard Engel on a worldwide assignment. And on the personal side, Gerry’s relationship with his wife (Mireille Enos of Big Love and The Killing) and two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) shows all the care and concern — and the sensible sense of humor — that one would like to think Pitt lavishes on his own large family. It’s a smarter, more organic display of affection than the daddy-love scenes in Moneyball, as well an antidote to the stern father Pitt played in The Tree of Life.
It's all pretty noble, and if nothing else, World War Z shows off some horrifically effective filmmaking: An early sequence, in which Pitt's Gerry figures out something has gone terribly wrong as he's driving his wife (Mireille Enos, of Big Love and The Killing) and two generically adorable daughters from here to there in Manhattan, is that rare evocation of chaos that isn't chaotic itself. Shot and edited with chilling clarity, it shows us vehicles colliding in seconds that feel like eons, or vice versa; metal crumples like paper and glass shatters as if invested with demonic life.
But Forster's meticulousness—coupled with ample excuses to blow stuff up—isn't enough to turn World War Z into one of those class-A end-of-everything movies that leaves you feeling just a little bit queasy, momentarily uncertain of your own small place in this unmanageable world.
In its quest to smarten up the genre, the filmmakers also stiffen it. "World War Z" may wear its intellect proudly, but also consciously translates the zombie premise into a safer context for wider audiences. It's not the smartest zombie movie ever made, but might be the most commercial one.
Waves of startling action counterbalance standard one-man-saves-the-day Hollywood heroics in World War Z, an immersive apocalyptic spectacle that tosses the viewer into the deep end of a global zombie uprising and doesn't let up until close to the end. A bunch of impressive set pieces stitched together rather than a good story convincingly told, this gargantuan production should ride Brad Pitt's name, teeming action scenes and widespread interest in all things zombie to strong box office returns, particularly internationally. Whether it will be enough to compensate Paramount and the assorted producers for the $200 million-plus investment and all their production headaches is something they'll have to sweat out.
Rising from an early grave of negative pre-release publicity, director Marc Forster and producer-star Brad Pitt’s much-maligned “World War Z” emerges as a surprisingly smart, gripping and imaginative addition to the zombie-movie canon, owing as much to scientific disaster movies like “The China Syndrome” and “Contagion” as it does to undead ur-texts like the collected works of George Romero. Showing few visible signs of the massive rewrites, reshoots and other post-production patchwork that delayed its release from December 2012, this sleekly crafted, often nail-biting tale of global zombiepocalypse clicks on both visceral and emotional levels, resulting in an unusually serious-minded summer entertainment whose ideal audience might be described as comicbook fanboys who also listen to “Democracy Now.” Opening a week apart from the more four-quadrant-friendly “Man of Steel” in most markets, “World War Z” should post solid enough numbers at home and abroad, but with a rumored final cost well north of $200 million, it’ll need more than a bit of kryptonite up its sleeve to push far into profitability.
What we get is a collection of moderately violent action set-pieces untroubled by humour or broader coherence… Forster, who directed the Bond film Quantum of Solace, has done his best to piece together a story from these incompatible parts, but the final product has an elaborate uselessness about it, like a broken teapot glued back together with the missing pieces replaced by parts of a vacuum cleaner.
Despite a lavish budget heading for $200 million (£131 million), World War Z borders on a damp squib for traditional zombie fans. More an action blockbuster than a horror squelcher, it contains spectacular crowd scenes that have an Hieronymus Bosch quality, but the film lacks strong meat — of the emotional and bloody zombie-cannibal sort.
Pitt leads us through the carnage with suitable stoic grace, but WWZ doesn’t really care about anyone with a pulse.
Forster’s zombies aren’t really zombies at all, and they often look more like an angry football crowd on a Saturday night – but there’s never been a more impressive horde of flesh-eaters on the big screen. Sprinting, gnashing, leaping and head-butting their way through civilisation in a swarm of thousands, the Zombie apocalypse finally looks big enough to be believable. Globetrotting from one epic set-piece to the next, WWZ is at its best when the screen is filled – with CG hordes pouring through crowded streets, piling high at city walls and overrunning helicopters like ants.