How 'World War Z' Stands Up to the Zombie Film Genre

The summer blockbuster broke away from many zombie conventions.

(Paramount Pictures/AP)

A scene from "World War Z."

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Bourne also scoffs at Pitt's character.

"We wouldn't send a UN guy out for a special operations mission," he says.

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Gerry's mission to find the source of the virus is a novel approach to the genre, notes Jones.

"Most zombie stories, the problems they solve are not the actual zombies. The problems they solve are the human interactions," he says.

The Solution

Gerry ultimately doesn't find the so-called "patient zero" of the zombie virus (which is probably for the better, since the virologist sent with him doesn't last very long). Rather, he realizes that the zombies don't attack humans who are a seriously ill, and that the way to defeat the zombies is to infect yourself with an illness (preferably one with a ready vaccine) that would make someone unappetizing to the zombie.

"If we use our human cleverness to get a magic bullet to kill all the zombies, I don't think that's very realistic," Jones says. "We [the audience] are much more willing to accept a really small victory, which is we find a way to camouflage ourselves."

But more than just a clever narrative trick, Gerry's work-around speaks to what the "World War Z" zombies represent: "A self replicating virus on a human scale," as Bourne puts it. "It was a walking virus. [With the solution], you see how these zombies behave, wanting nothing more than to inject and infect."

The fact that there was a happy ending differentiates "World War Z" from many zombie films.

"A lot of zombie films end with the zombies winning or a couple survivors going off on their own," Weiner says. "There isn't a sure resolution that works."

The Geopolitics

"World War Z" had its hero jetting from continent to continent, navigating the channels of international relations and understanding how different nation-states dealt with their impending doom.

"They framed it from a global perspective," Bourne says, "It seemed it had a big UN spin to it."

This also sets "World War Z" apart from the typical zombie films. "Most of the zombies are limited in scope," Jones says. "'World War Z' got a lot of its scariness, a lot of its dread, out of the fact the whole world is collapsing."

And other critics have examined the political arguments underlying "World War Z."

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"'World War Z' was saying we live in a world society, we all need to get along and we cant have these petty little wars anymore," Weiner says. "I don't know that zombie films in general really have a political aspect to them in that way. Many of them have social aspects," like mass consumerism and loss of personal freedom, he says

On a smaller scale, "World War Z" also appeals to the world of preppers – people who prepare for mass chaos brought on by the breakdown of social institutions. (A Washington D.C. press screening of the "World War Z" even featured a panel of preppers to answer questions before the film). As Gerry rushes around a war zone of a grocery store grabbing all the food, supplies and medicine he could, the viewer can't help but to think, Maybe I should pick up some extra batteries on the way home – or an AR-15.

"I think this is mind candy for preppers" Bourne says, adding that preppers usually have more realistic situations in mind, like natural disasters. "If you can prepare for a zombie apocalypse you, are prepared for everything else," he says.

While people write off preppers, it's hard to deny how under-prepared our institutions are to deal with a zombie takeover, or even a lesser crisis.

"One of the things I was thinking as I was watching 'World War Z' is just how easy something like that would totally break down our society. People would be in chaos," Weiner says. "The most enduring stories use the zombie to highlight us in the foreground."

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