If you loved Max Brooks' source material, World War Z -- the movie -- represents a tough challenge up front. Excised from the film adaptation is most of the geopolitical intrigue that makes it such a compelling book in the first place.
Inserted is Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane, a United Nations employee who is not merely documenting the global response to a zombie pandemic but is actively searching for the cure to it. In short, World War Z the film is, quite literally, a representation of the book in name only. If you can let go of this fact, you might actually enjoy yourself. If you can't ... well, it's going to be a long 116 minutes.
Pitt is a U.N. investigator, yes, but in a more conventional and broad sense, he's an action hero from beginning to end. As the zombie plague spreads to American cities, he just barely manages to get his family out of Philadelphia and then on to a U.N. command ship in the middle of the ocean before setting out on a worldwide quest to find "Patient Zero" that takes him to Korea, Israel and Wales.
In all three locales, heart-stopping brushes with zombies -- "Zekes," as the soldiers in Korea call them -- await. These are not the classic George Romero undead; they are more akin to the horrors in 28 Days Later -- fast-moving beasts that are mistakenly called rabid by newscasters in the beginning of the film. The action sequences are gripping. Both Pitt and director Marc Forster aren't exactly experienced when it comes to that sort of thing, but it certainly didn't show. Whether the zombies are swarming over a wall in Israel, infesting an airfield and military base in Korea or overwhelming a commercial airliner, they are terrifying.
Pitt's series of narrow escapes as he searches for a way to slow the spread of the disease are counterbalanced by frequent calls back to the command center so he can check in with his wife Karin, played by Mireille Enos, and his children. It's fairly obvious why this dynamic is present, but it's at best heavy-handed and at worst totally unnecessary. When all of humanity is threatened, I don't think it's a requirement that the man who can halt that threat be further humanized like he's John McClane or something. As human beings, we're all behind him.
It also steals time that could have been otherwise spent getting more of that geopolitical stuff in that Brooks so skillfully included in his novel. The explanations for why North Korea and Israel are successful in fending off the plague are fascinating, but they only scratch the surface of Brooks' work. Moviegoers who haven't read the book won't even know what they are missing.
With the international drama largely removed from the plot, what we're left with is a pretty straightforward zombie action movie. It doesn't redefine either genre like Brooks' book, but it's a decent summer popcorn film with an extremely broad appeal, especially given how light it goes on the gore. Try as I might, I can't complain about something my parents could easily enjoy just because it doesn't live up to the book I love. In a weird way, its almost complete lack of resemblance to the source material makes it easier to let go of what might have been had it been, say, a Band of Brothers-style miniseries with an ensemble cast of relative unknowns. If you've read the book, though, your mileage may vary considerably.