Brad Pitt wages war on zombies in World War Z

World War Z. That’s Z for zombie.

A tale of zombie apocalypse starring Brad Pitt as human warrior No. 1, “World War Z” depicts billions of ravenous, resourceful, rampaging zombies swarming over the planet.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator who’s retreated from the world’s dangerous hot zones to the loving, safe arms of his wife and two daughters in Philadelphia.

But Lane’s world, and the world in general, gets turned upside down in a shocking, horrifying way when a virus spreads with amazing swiftness over the globe. On what begins for most people in the U.S. as a normal morning, Lane’s youngest daughter, Constance (Sterling Jerins), asks her father, “Daddy, what’s martial law?”

Lane knows exactly what martial law is. So when he and his family get trapped in a downtown Philadelphia traffic jam, his war-zone experience kicks in. He’s a few steps ahead in realizing that something very wrong is happening.

The 24-hour global reach of airlines proves the perfect delivery system for the virus that, in minutes after infection, turns humans into snapping, biting monsters. The streets of Philadelphia, and the streets of every major city, instantly become ground zero for marauding zombies and screaming humans who’ll soon be zombies.

“World War Z’s” zombies are not the slow, stumbling, stupid creatures of AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead.” These dead people walking are racing, ferocious beings of the kind that infested maybe the greatest zombie movie ever made, 2002’s Danny Boyle-directed “28 Days Later.” The latter qualities give “World War Z” urgency and shock value.

As the world goes to hell, Lane gets a call from U.N. Deputy Secretary General Thierry Umutoni (South African actor Fana Mokoena).

“I need you back,” Umutoni says.

Pitt’s Lane is a quick-thinking, straight-shooting American hero. He’s fighting for his family and his world. But there’s also something elegant in the simplicity of Pitt’s performance. The actor, a famous father himself, gets the most from his character’s dedication to family. There’s real depth in the performance, seen in the character’s resigned melancholy and the soulful gaze he casts upon unbelievable events.

Marc Forster directed “World War Z” from a script by four writers, J. Michael Straczynski, Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard and, the author of the novel upon which the movie is based, Max Brooks.

Maybe because there are so many hands in the pot, the movie’s tone and impact are uneven. Epic scenes of rampaging zombies don’t seem to be part of the same film as comparatively intimate scenes in which Lane and two other survivors — Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier and Pierfrancesco Favino as an Italian doctor — move stealthily through the zombie-infested halls of a World Health Organization research lab.

And Brooks’ novel has been converted into a series of not-so-well linked episodes, each set in the film’s international locales, from Philadelphia to places throughout the world where Lane conducts his search for the cause and cure for the zombie plague.

Despite “World War Z’s” slow spots and incongruities, Pitt and his zombie movie win the day.