Former U.N. special agent Gerry Lane has plenty of global intervention experience. He's been in the middle of some of the most deadly situations in modern times. He's logical, focused and cool under pressure. People up the chain of power like him, and they want him to run point on this one.
Gerry, though, would definitely rather not be in charge of this latest effort in the field. He purposefully left this kind of work behind. What he wants to do is stay by the side of his wife and two young daughters. He wants to use all his skills and connections to keep them safe. He wants this whole nightmare to go away and leave his loved ones alone.
When the general in charge presses him on the subject and hits him with, "Don't pretend your family is exempt when we talk about the end of humanity," the words strike true, though. For the sake of his family and millions of others, Gerry knows he must brave the danger. He must use what few resources are at his command to find answers. Find a source. Find a solution.
In truth, he may not be the best man for this job. But, hey, after the masses of undead swarmed nearly everything and everyone in every city, Gerry Lane is likely the best man alive for the job.
Zombie plagues have a way of shaking things up like that.
Gerry Lane dearly loves his wife, Karin, and their two young girls, Rachel and Connie. Even when Gerry's professional instincts finally do kick in, his first thoughts are always for them. When nudged into using his skills in the field, he makes sure to comfort his scared kids and assure them that "Daddy's coming back." For her part, Karin also does everything she can to protect and comfort her girls and another young boy they rescue along the way.
When his family isn't around, Gerry self-sacrificially runs to the aid of even strangers. He helps a wounded soldier to safety and cares for her wounds. He draws zombies to chase him so that others can escape. He exposes himself to a deadly disease in hopes of saving a handful of doctors (and possibly all of humanity).
When arriving in Jerusalem, Gerry is amazed by the fact that those in a walled-off compound are still taking pains to open the doors to straggling survivors, even though the zombie hordes are raging outside. "Every human being we save," the man in charge tells him, "Is one less zombie to fight."
During a radio broadcast, a preacher talks of the zombie plague rising from the depths of hell.
For all of its introspection and tension, World War Z is still predominantly an action flick that turns up the heat and repeatedly focuses its cameras on what amounts to open warfare between hundreds and sometimes thousands of humans and zombies in the city streets of several global locales.
From an elevated and sometimes running and swooping perspective we see people screaming and fleeing in all directions, the rabid diseased leaping on the innocent with teeth bared. We see people firing guns point-blank and beating off creatures with everything from baseball bats to fire axes. We see military helicopters hovering at a distance, shooting explosives and large-caliber weapons into swarms of innocents and undead alike. We see them get pulled down when they fly too close. We see the side of an airliner blown out by a grenade, and humans and zombies sucked out into the sky. We see some of them get pulled into the spinning turbines of the jet's engine. We see a nuclear bomb detonate.
Massive mayhem is the new order of the day.
People are attacked and bitten by the zombie hordes, but we rarely see flesh rent and torn up-close. The death-dealing is most often shown from a distance, or in a frantic, hard-to-track rush, or just offscreen. In many cases, just the onslaught of a crowd of hundreds of zombies—charging in, tumbling vehicles (including a bus) and destroying nearly everything in their path by their sheer mass—is enough to communicate the full weight of the deadly terror on hand.
In some cases, the zombie masses even defy physics, which adds its own unexpected splash of horror. After being bitten, for instance, a victim transforms into a zombie within 12 seconds, rapidly adding numbers to the horde. This frenzied brand of undead can smash their heads through car windows and scramble through the hole with teeth slashing. They run screaming en mass into and through splintering, crumbling wooden doors. They climb over one another by the score and somehow mount 100-foot walls, tossing themselves off the top to smash down with a bloody thump and crack on the ground and car tops below. Yet they still keep raging on, desperate to kill the living.
There are moments of more up-close and personal battling: Gerry creates a makeshift bayonet and impales several shadowed pursuers. He crushes the skulls of two creatures with a crowbar. Soldiers use pistols and high-powered rifles to fell nearby zombies. After a plane crash, Gerry wakes with a large chunk of ragged metal stuck in his side. When a soldier has her hand bitten by a zombie, Gerry instinctively grabs a machete and lops off her contaminated appendage before the venom spreads.
Crude or Profane Language
Nine or 10 s-words. Three or four uses each of "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard." Jesus' name is exclaimed once; God's a half-dozen times (sometimes in combination with "d‑‑n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Gerry and Karin drink beer offered by a family they take refuge with. Gerry gives a badly wounded soldier small bottles of alcohol to dull her pain while he attends to her injury. She gulps them down in agony. Gerry grabs some asthma medication for his struggling daughter from a crowd-ravaged drug store. Later, he injects himself with a potentially lethal pathogen.
Other Negative Elements
I'll put this in the form of a question because of its extreme, hypothetical nature: Would it be wrong for a family to "steal" an RV to make their escape during an intense zombie attack?
"Was it good?" the film studio representative asked me after the press screening of World War Z. And in the three milliseconds I had to think before I tossed out an answer to her, it struck me that the answer might be quite different depending on who was asking. Indeed, diverse pockets of people out there are wondering that very thing about this much-ballyhooed, repeatedly advertised and long-delayed pic. They may not all be longing for my answer, but they're all wondering for their own reasons.
Fans of the Max Brooks 2006 novel on which the movie is based, for example, will want to know if the pic hangs true to the original tale. And if they had asked, I would have spelled out that the movie does at least have the flavor of the best-seller—a Studs Terkel-like interview of zombie plague survivors by a U.N. employee—but that it's more of an action pic than an interweaving storyteller. (The fact that the finished flick was pieced together from the disparate work of a cadre of writers, then pruned by producer/star Brad Pitt's sensibilities and even delayed in its release because of a third-act total reshoot should say quite a lot to this crowd.)
Then there are the zombie-movie-of-any-kind aficionados. "Is it any good?" in their case potentially means just how much brain-chomping and dribbling entrails-ripping they can expect. To them I'd have to say that this PG-13 war/action/adventure/biological disaster piece is actually a bit more reserved than many of the other rotten carrion efforts in the genre. I'd also make it clear that these screen-filling shriekers are no old-school shamblers. These are feral, werewolf-like undead that swarm in by the thousands, teeth gnashing and limbs windmilling. They make up a wave of ravaging, fleshy death that surges over walls and buries everything in its path. So the focus here is more terror than gore.
And, of course, I can't forget the families (many of them with tween and teen boys) who want to know just how bad this film might be. After all, there are some possible positives. It's got a well-respected star in the lead and a whispered reputation of being more of a suspenseful, intellectual thriller than a full-blown monster mash. To that discerning drove I'd say, Tread warily. There are PG-13 pics and then there are PG-13 pics. Pitt gives a solid performance as a loving dad and self-sacrificial, hard-hitting, puzzle-piecing hero. But all around him, limbs are chopped off, innocents are devoured, bones do break, explosions can roar, children do scream in fear, people are shot, torn and murdered, and the movie's leaping, masticating terrors will disturb.
So how in the world was I supposed to compress all those possible responses down to a single 10-second comment while streaming out the door at the end of the movie? The lady asking probably thought I had turned into a brainless zombie myself by the time my garbled answer was done.