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Review: World War Z

Q: What happens when an unstoppable zombie force meets Brad Pitt's immovable hair?  A: A good $400 million movie that should have been a GREAT $175 million movie. World War Z is compelling and suspenseful but still not worth its price tag.

A new virus is turning humans into the rabid undead. Governments are falling. Entire cities are lost. The world as we know it is ending. WWZ finds leading-man/producer Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, an ex-UN investigator on the hunt for the source/solution to this world-wide pandemic.

[movies name="World War Z" website="" score="3.0" trailer="" rating="14a" advisories="FRIGHTENING SCENES;GRAPHIC VIOLENCE" genre="Horror/Zombie" runningtime="116" opens="June 21, 2013"]

Despite the negative publicity surrounding off-camera disputes, a spiraling budget, numerous changes to the writing team and a costly reshoot, WWZ comes together with only a few visible seams and, on-camera, does more right than wrong.

Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) succeeds in providing a macroscopic view of the zombie-induced devastation; city-wide panoramic shots stunningly show the horrifying power of a zombie horde. It is the single greatest depiction of the chaos and instability that would arise from a zombie apocalypse within the genre.

Everybody likes their own particular brand of zombie: the slow, groaning, walker; the deranged, chomp-crazy, sprinter; the severed, yet menacingly determined, limb lurching towards fresh flesh. World War Z's are of the second variety; you may remember them from 28 Days Later.  And though the zombies may be familiar, the distinct lack of gore isn’t.  No brains here, just some good, old-fashioned, family friendly nibbling.  It’s quite the sacrifice for a PG-13 rating (14A in Ontario - Ed.) and one that will surely be missed by traditional fans of the genre.

While the rampaging swarm of infected ex-humans is good for a few jolts, the key to this film’s success is in its suspense.  Forster masterfully builds seat-clenching tension that, peppered with some great action sequences and the odd scare, creates a brilliant pace for the majority of the movie.  However, the film’s $200 million ending, and major source of infectious buzz, actually feels more like a muted, low-budget, addition.  Though it’s certainly a change from the first two high-energy, militaristic acts, the 40 minute reshoot may be out of pace, but isn't necessarily out of place.

Even excluding the fate of the world, too much of this film rests on Pitt's shoulders. Commanding about 95% of the screen time, Pitt's Gerry Lane is an underdeveloped Hollywood hero.  Despite a strong performance by Pitt, this survivalist turned family man is too superficial, a problem at the scripted level.  He’s great only because we’re told he’s great. Some quick thinking and handy knife-work aside, we never witness the skills that have brought him to the front lines of the war against zombies.  However, accepting that he is as impressive as we are led to believe, the protagonist is perfect to the point of impossibility, a dedicated family man with the skills to survive in the world’s most dangerous social climates, a killer with a heart of gold. Like all men without flaws, he’s just too good to be true.

Brad Pitt's Hair Brad Pitt's Hair

Brad Pitt's Hair

Even his hair manages to remain perfectly in place (tucked behind his ears, framing that glorious face) in the midst of every zombie encounter.  This golden-boy approach to heroism will leave traditional zombie fans wanting for the gritty demeanor we’ve come to expect of our leading men.

WWZ is a thrilling zombie epic, but not without its flaws.  Those expecting to see what $400 million can afford will be disappointed, as will the traditional zombie fan expecting bats, boobs or brains.  But still, consistent suspense and a handful of cinematically-brilliant moments make this a worthwhile trip to the theater.  3/5.