World War Z, a horror-action picture about a worldwide zombie epidemic, contains a number of stupendous sequences. In one, a traffic jam in Philadelphia has turned roads into parking lots, and people suddenly start emerging from their cars, snarling and looking dead and hungry and maniacal. In another scene, hordes of the undead swarm a gigantic wall built to protect Israel, climbing over each other like ants until they reach the top and start jumping on the unsuspecting civilians below.
And in perhaps the best setpiece of the film, a man aboard an airliner in mid-flight emerges from the planes rear bathroom and starts chomping on people, the zombie disease spreading through coach and making its way toward first-class in a matter of seconds, like a runaway fire. Such scenes make director Marc Forsters attempt to adapt Max Brooks unfilmable novel an oral history of mankinds war against the undead a fun and scary blast.
But then theres the rest of the movie. Instead of cramming the books multitude of characters into a two-hour film, World War Z focuses on Gerry (Brad Pitt), a retired United Nations official who must leave his wife and two daughters to help the government figure out where this rapidly spreading virus came from (and, more importantly, how to stop it).
A lot of gore in horror movies today is purely gratuitous: The recent Evil Dead remake used so much blood, for example, the overkill was almost comical. But things are different when the subject turns to flesh-eating zombies. The threat of unspeakable mutilation and violence the idea of being eaten alive is what makes them terrifying (the fact theyre so hard to kill is just a bonus). And World War Z, because it cost a reported $200 million, plays things extra-safe to make sure 12-year-olds can see it along with the grown-ups. For a story with so much death and mayhem, the film is practically bloodless. In one scene, a characters hand gets chopped off, and the camera shies away so quickly you cant even tell whats happened until a few scenes later.
The filmmakers go for suspense, but they condescend to the audience, as if we hadnt seen all this before. And although there are some initial feints at using zombies as a metaphor for third-world issues and cultural differences, the picture forgets all that stuff by the final reel.