Global annihilation is nearly always implicit in zombie tales — lonely England assumes the world lost in 28 Days Later, Rick and his Walking Dead friends lurch around Georgia and figure everything beyond it an abyss — but they rarely zoom out to actually show us the ravaged Earth entire. Enter World War Z, a travelogue of sorts that takes our hero, UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), hopping from ruined place to ruined place in search of a cure for the virus taking over the planet. The film's source material is Max Brooks's excellent, thorough, utterly engrossing novel, a faux oral history that has no central protagonist. While it would have been interesting to see a big blockbuster try and pull off something episodic like that, it admittedly would have been quite a gamble for all involved. So we get Gerry as our lead guy, though World War Z does still introduce us to a panoply of people and places. In doing so, it's a sprawling film that nonetheless maintains an alluring sense of intimacy.
Credit for that should largely go to Pitt, who, now on the precipice of 50, uses his leonine features and twang-inflected mumble in a far softer way than he used to. There's a slight aura of wise weariness fuzzing around his edges that draws us in close — he's a warm presence, and confident in a quiet, reassuring way. Gerry has been in some of the world's worst places, but he's not a super commando or anything. He's just a smart, resourceful, and efficient guy with a family at home (well, on an aircraft carrier, anyway) that he'd like very much to get back to. Pitt plays Gerry with a relaxed, rumpled ease, and we believe him when he tells his family and others that if they just stick by him, everything will be OK. When did Brad Pitt, smoldering sex symbol for the ages, become so comforting and, well, fatherly? (Oh, right.) It's an inviting performance, and grounds this big movie with a cozy sturdiness.