‘World War Z’: prouder, stronger, better?

It begins like one of President Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” ads — an idyllic house featuring the nuclear family: Dad’s flipping pancakes, Mom’s helping out with math homework, the girls are begging for a puppy — everyday ordinary scenes edited over swelling music. You know, it’s morning again in America.

But unlike Reagan’s presidential ad, the TV montage and narration in “World War Z” are ones of increasing urgency: dolphins stranded, travel restrictions, rabies in Taiwan, CO2 rising, the looting of grocery stores, trucks bulldozing cars like they’re Matchbox toys, people jumping off roofs of skyscrapers and martial law.

These frightening scenes of chaos prove that the world’s neither prouder, stronger nor better. But rather, it shows an apocalyptic turmoil that’s becoming as routine as — say pancakes for breakfast.

While a zombie apocalypse may sound as far-fetched as martians landing on Earth, Marc Forster’s “World War Z” contains a sense of realism that makes a zombie infestation look plausible (or at least sound as realistic as Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio drama).

The everyman in this story is Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN employee who reluctantly travels to find patient zero after a zombie virus spreads worldwide. In exchange for his service, his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and daughters, Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins), are promised refuge.

Forster’s zombie movie, based on a novel by Max Brooks (author of “War World Z” and “The Zombie Survival Guide”), differs from zombie movies of the past. Unlike “28 Days Later” where Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed alone or “I Am Legend” where Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man on earth, “World War Z” opens with a father and his wife and kids. Gerry Lane is never alone while raiding abandoned supermarkets or hunting deer. He has his wife and girls in tow. And when he doesn’t — only because his UN mission requires it — he’s with soldiers and scientists who have guns guarding his back.

But that’s not the only thing that separates “World War Z.” Forster’s film deals with the zombie epidemic on a much more modern and global scale. Sure, “Shaun of the Dead” — the 2004 British zom-com featuring a bloke named Shaun (Simon Pegg) trying to survive a zombie apocalypse — is good and fun and all, but the action is mostly isolated to traveling to and from a pub. And Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead” centers around a shopping mall. There’s no such thing as isolated pubs or shopping malls anymore — not with globalization.

“World War Z” takes the viewer from the city traffic in Philadelphia to a Naval ship off the coast of New York City to a military base in South Korea, a mecca in Jerusalem and a World Health Organization research facility in Wales. You know that 400-mile wall separating Israel from Palestine? That, it turns out, is the world’s greatest zombie blockade. So you’re saying that an infectious virus would solve the more than 60-year conflict between the Israelites and the Palestinians? Well, that’s one way to achieve world peace… And oh look, it’s morning again in America.

“World War Z” was directed by Marc Forster and written by Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard, Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski, based on the novel by Max Brooks. 

The undead never die: a sample of recent zombie flicks

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