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"World War Z" not dead on arrival, critics say

Brad Pitt, Abigail Hargrove and Mireille Enos in "World War Z."
Paramount Pictures

Brad Pitt and a hoard of zombies are heading into theaters this weekend with the debut of "World War Z."

The film, directed by Marc Forster and produced by Pitt, is based on Max Brooks' book of the same name but deviates from its source material significantly. Fans of the book know it's an "oral history" documenting how the world's governments and citizens reacted to and recovered from a devastating zombie epidemic. This adaptation takes place as the crisis is happening, with Pitt starring as a former United Nations investigator trying to save his family and the world.

But despite the reports of rewrites, reshoots and production problems that plagued the film, critics say "World War Z" isn't dead on arrival. Rather, many reviewers hailed Pitt's performance and the movie itself as smart, fast-paced and entertaining.

Read on to see what some of them had to say:

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: "Be prepared for a relatively grown-up, modestly intelligent and refreshingly un-bombastic thriller ... Anchored by a solid lead performance by Brad Pitt, who plays a happy Philadelphia househusband pulled back into his old profession of U.N. investigator when a zombie apocalypse threatens to destroy the world, 'World War Z' may not break new ground in either of the genres it straddles. But it deserves a certain amount of credit for refusing to buy into the current cinematic arms race in Biggest, Loudest and Dumbest."

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: "'World War Z,' directed by Marc Forster from a script with five credited authors, reverses the relentless can-we-top-this structure that makes even smart blockbusters feel bloated and dumb. The large-scale, city-destroying sequences come early, leading toward a climax that is intimate, intricate and genuinely suspenseful."

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "What could have been an artistically ambitious, multiperspective look at how modern ideological and religious disarray opened the door for catastrophe has, implausibly but understandably, been reduced to the story of a classic reluctant hero's effort to do what the collective global governments and science geniuses cannot: get to the root of why there are suddenly so many drooling, groaning, jerking and amazingly fast-moving ghouls running around the world interested only in feasting on their former fellow human beings."

Scott Foundas, Variety: "Showing few visible signs of the massive rewrites, reshoots and other post-production patchwork that delayed its release from December 2012, this sleekly crafted, often nail-biting tale of global zombiepocalypse clicks on both visceral and emotional levels, resulting in an unusually serious-minded summer entertainment."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "'World War Z' plays a bit like a series of separate films and the juncture where the new final act was grafted onto the proceedings is unmistakable, but unless you knew about the film's troubled past, you'd never guess it existed. Against considerable odds, the ability and professionalism of the cast and crew have carried the day.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Tension, not gore, fuels this zowie zombie apocalypse. 'The Walking Dead' crowd may be bummed by the relative scarcity of rotting flesh and leaking pustules. But 'World War Z' is still as smart, shifty and scary as a starving zombie ready to chow down on you, baby, you."

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "'World War Z,' which may be the most entertaining and accomplished zombie thriller since George A. Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' (1979), has touches of that suspenseful high-tension claustrophobia. Yet it's a very different sort of zombie feast (far more than, say, 'The Walking Dead'). It's vast and sprawling and spectacular; it's the first truly globalized orgy of the undead.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "The ambitious architecture of a mind-blowing movie is here. But not enough energy is devoted to the more shattering philosophical questions of what happens when rules, norms and structures fail and governments and armies are left defenseless. Essentially, it boils down to familiar fare: a well-paced, entertaining, conventional action thriller where a reluctant hero saves the day."