Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) used to work for the United Nations, but all the dangerous situations he was landed in has made him hunger for the quiet family life at home in Philadelphia with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two young daughters. One morning he is making breakfast for them when he notices on the kitchen television reports of civil unrest breaking out across the world, but he doesn't take much notice because, well, plus ça change, there's always something happening somewhere. On the drive to drop off his kids at school and his wife at work, on the other hand, it seems as if the chaos may be occurring closer to home than he had anticipated...
The potent idea that civilisation is only one disaster away from complete, violent anarchy was one which came to fruition in the apocalypse genre of science fiction, and the more of these fictions were created whether in print, on television or on the silver screen, the more the public's thirst for them appeared to be insatiable. No more so than in the zombie subgenre, which in the early twenty-first century seemed to confirm everyone's fears about what people were really like when there's a mass of them: dangerous, not likely to join together to work to a common purpose unless that purpose was one of tearing down the walls of a community, global if necessary.
This paranoia was very fashionable when it was not simply the authorities we had to worry about as had been the case in the seventies, where this kind of thing had truly taken off, but in the hearts of those you might pass on the street, could be in your neighbourhood, even living right next door to you: basically, it was difficult to see who you could trust anymore. When a zombie flick happened along like World War Z it was confirming all those modern fears that without warning events could erupt into havoc, and you might not survive, which is precisely what the start of this movie detailed as the infection is spread through biting, except that our hero was Brad Pitt so you were well aware there was no way he was not going to make it at least to the grand finale.
And his screen family will probably do the same, even if he is separated from them for the rest of the plot thanks to the U.N. pressing him into service as one man who can actually help stem the tide of the mass outbreak. Zombie tales were dime a dozen by this stage, acknowledging what the granddaddy of them all, George A. Romero had understood, which was how effective they could be for an aspiring moviemaker on a lower budget. In this case however, a huge amount of money had been thrown at the production to bring Max Brooks' novel to the globe's cinemas, and the stories of the trouble it had wrestling some kind of conventional narrative out of the decidedly uncinematic book were capturing the headlines all the way through the protracted shoot and well into the editing.
So as many were wont to point out, this was not the book, a cod-historical document of how a worldwide zombie attack was halted after many disasters told through interviews, although every so often Gerry will have a sit down with another character and ask them to tell him all they know. What this had as an advantage was something it did have in common with the page, and that was enough funds to create that same sense of huge scale, so just as Brooks' interviewer does Pitt goes globetrotting from his home in the U.S.A. to South Korea to Israel to Wales, with the deleted scenes where he might have taken a different path relegated to the end montage. More captivating was perhaps director Marc Forster's willingness to be quiet, as many scenes were peppered throughout which took place in near-silence as contrast to those major setpieces where all hell breaks loose, and as far as that went World War Z was surprisingly effective. It was only in the latter stages that you began to question if they were wrapping things up properly - if they had at all - and lament the lack of the truly visceral. Music by Marco Beltrami.