World War Z Review: Brad Pitt's Zombie Movie Is Full of "Heart-Pounding Thrills"

Entertainment Jun. 21, 2013 AT 8:00AM
Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane in WORLD WAR Z. Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane in WORLD WAR Z. Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

3 Stars

Zombies in the drugstore. Zombies on the roof. Zombies in the streets and making a mad dash for your windshield right at this very second.

Those walking dead pervade nearly every inch of screen of the much-buzzed-about, apocalyptical flick World War Z -- and they provide heart-pounding thrills with each staggered step.

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Of course, if there's one guy who can stop them, it might as well be Brad Pitt. He's Gerry, a retired United Nations investigator enjoying a quiet domestic life in the suburbs until he's summoned back to the job. Seems millions of people all over the world have become infected with a mysterious virus that instantly turns them into sinister you-know-whats. Do a quick IMDB scan of the star's resume and you'll see that he rarely delves into big-budget summer escapism fare (let's not count Troy). Yet the steely-eyed  actor -- who's pushing 50! -- has never looked more confident in the hero role as he treks from Philadelphia to South Korea to Wales trying to stop the bloodbath and find a vaccine. As one colleague wryly tells him after a near-death experience, "You're a tough bastard." 

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The global chase moves swiftly, with some truly fantastic and tension-filled set pieces enhancing the drama. In Jerusalem (where officials have literally sealed off the danger), the bad guys form a towering ladder and scale a wall as the innocent sing in harmony on the other side. On a crowded commercial airplane preparing to land, one barking lap dog leads to terrifying chaos among the passengers. The scenes feel fresh and authentic. 

While Pitt plays sleuth, his worried wife (The Killing's Mireille Enos) and two cute daughters bide their time on a military base, waiting for his phone calls. These filler scenes feel like a distraction and seem to function solely to illustrate his soft family-man side. Audiences might also pick up on a few disjointed action sequences and form too many unanswered questions about the ghouls themselves. (Why do they want to eat their prey anyway? To paraphrase The Princess Bride, are they dead or mostly dead?). Still, given its reported ballooning costs, production delays and overhauled third act, it’s impressive that the movie even has a beginning, middle and end, let alone intelligence between the lines. 

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Perhaps most impressively, the project rates low on the camp-o-meter. Save for a wild-eyed doctor loitering in a medical lab, the massacres and the monsters aren't played for laughs. Heck, Pitt doesn't even fire off a single zombie-themed zinger. Oh no, better to just let audiences sit in the dark, paralyzed in a state of fear. Pass the popcorn!

World War Z hits theaters Friday, June 21.

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