I admit to going into this film with a distinct bias. I've read WWZ a few times, being that zombies have been something of a hobby of mine since I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was ten. Those years were very formative for me and created some strong opinions that remain with me to this day. In a similar vein to how my first games of D&D cemented first edition as tops among the available options, NotLD showed me how zombies were meant to be portrayed. Plodding, mindless and dangerous in large numbers. I've adapted a bit on this in the years since, as I've found plenty to enjoy in the variety of zombies presented to us in the modern era, but WWZ as presented in the trailer seemed like too much of a jump from the source material. I imagined a series of smaller films detailing individual's experiences during the outbreak. Something similar to the interviews that made up the chapters of the book.
I can honestly say that I walked out of the theater surprised at how my tune had changed. Yes, it isn't exactly WWZ as Max Brooks presents it to us. The film follows one man as he travels the globe in search of a way to combat the outbreak and return to his family. The zombies aren't what the book gave us, and the film doesn't cover the entirety of the war, but that doesn't make it bad. It does give us the fall of New York, the Israeli quarantine and the UN presence. It isn't a perfect WWZ adaptation but it does do a number of things really well.
The film feels like one man's story, like it could fit in the novel as one of the interviews even though we see it unfold first hand. It was able to maintain that personal feel by tying the main character to his goal of returning to his family even as he flies halfway across the world. The opening scenes where he and his family try to flee the outbreak work well to cement that. The fact that he does so much globe trotting helps to show us what I always felt was the most important part of the novel; the global pandemic. We are shown how various areas of the world have fared against the onslaught and the often drastic steps they have taken to defend themselves.
Brad Pitt's performance is standard for him, so if you're a fan you're likely to enjoy it. I found the side characters that accompany him during his trip to be more compelling. A cocky virologist seeking clues, a hardened military commander who does his job, a tough but young Israeli soldier. I was interested in the varied personalities as they entered and exited the story, keeping a fresh perspective available. The movie keeps moving at a pretty decent clip, pausing only a couple of times to let the tension build again. Pacing, acting and direction are all handled quite well here.
World War Z is not a great adaptation of the source material, but it's a solid example of how one man might have experienced an outbreak. It takes liberties and I can imagine Max Brooks might have some legitimate reasons to dislike it, but it does manage to maintain that mix of personal and globe-spanning that I found compelling about his book. As far as it being a zombie film, it's among the better ones we've been given in recent years. It presents the intensity of an assault by endless waves of rabid undead more acutely than most and as a fan of the genre, I can safely recommend it.