It may not be fair that the messy backstory behind the making of "World War Z" clouds judgments of the film's quality. But it's hard to forget the rumors of rewrites, producer tiffs and an ending that reportedly cost millions to reshoot, when the film – based on a complex and well-received novel of the same title – feels so directionless and meandering. That doesn't mean the giant zombie flick is not entertaining. There are some unforgettable shots of rabid corpses taking over cities like tiny ants. And Brad Pitt is always a sight for sore movie-going eyes, even with a hair cut like he's the lead singer of a 1970s garage band. It will please the masses looking for standard, action-stuffed, summer fare. But without an underlying theme or overarching narrative, "World War Z" nearly flat-lines and only in its resolution does all the destruction seem worth it.
"World War Z" gets rolling with its end-of-humanity scenario quickly – a bit too quickly, giving little reason to get invested in its characters or the challenge they face. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two children (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) are a happy little family, whose routine morning drive is interrupted by a swarm of feverish, decrepit corpses. They run and jump like spider monkeys, pouncing on and biting every living creature in their vicinity. "World War Z" frames its zombie apocalypse like a global viral pandemic. The disease that turns humans into twitchy, carnivorous corpses gets passed around like chicken pox at a day care center.
Like Liam Neeson's character in "Taken," Gerry has a past life that has enabled him with a particular set of skills, and a family who has been taken hostage – not by a sex trader like in "Taken," but by Gerry's former employer, the United Nations. Gerry's old boss, a U.N. undersecretary (Fana Mokoena), whisks them to a quarantined ship in the middle of the ocean, but will only keep them there if Gerry agrees to lead the effort to defeat the virus. Gerry must keep his family safe by saving the world. If it wasn't for them, who knows if he would have any interest in rescuing humanity.
With a background working humanitarian crises for the U.N., Gerry is far more benevolent hero than his "Taken" counterpart, Bryan Mills, a trained hunter and killer. Gerry can handle a rifle like the best of them, but can also wrap up an amputee on the spot. He is inanely resourceful, but also possesses a keen understanding of refugee flight patterns. He is ruthless when it comes to dealing with the undead, but doles out mercy and kindness – albeit haphazardly – to those around him still living.
He is team player and works wells with others, if any of his many partners in zombie-killing could manage not falling victims to their prey. Gerry is the perfect recruitment tool for the United Nations (maybe at the doing of Pitt's longtime girlfriend and baby momma Angelina Jolie, a U.N. goodwill ambassador.)
Gerry jumps around across the globe, from Philadelphia to South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales, always just a step away ahead of being zombified by the undead masses. Interesting tidbits are thrown in occasionally about how a character or a community is dealing with its zombie circumstances. Rather than let our hero, much less the film, meditate on each revelation to further understand the enemy, they're thrown by the wayside so Gerry can swing an ax at a zombie's head. Even with the epic settings, unceasing action and the best zombie makeup money can buy, watching a devoted dad run away from flesh-eating monsters can get a little boring.
What little action other characters take often just get in Gerry's way, even those with best intentions. Gerry's wife anxiously calls her husband any moment she can. A refugee leads a group in songs. These moments could lend themselves to show the beauty of humanity even facing a race destroying virus. But rather, they create calamities so Gerry can show himself a more perfect hero.