'World War Z' review: Terrifying, intense, cobbled-together zombie thrill ride
The action-thriller 'World War Z' earns very high marks for incredibly intense & thrilling action sequences while getting point deductions for paper-thin characters and forced plot points that shove the film forward.
In short: Retired United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) travels the world trying to find a cure and a way to stop thezombie pandemic that is toppling armies and collapsing governments. (watch the trailer)
While the debate between 'running zombies vs. slow-moving/Romero zombies' may not be settled anytime soon, 'Z' opts for a borderline super-powered army of the undead. These zombies fling themselves toward their prey with absolutely no regard for their own safety - which creates absolutely intense and creative action sequences. This makes 'Z' a harrowing and emotionally intense ride during its incredible action scenes.
This film impressively delivers suspense and excitement on several scales - from massive action sequences to one-on-one zombie scenes. The opening Philadelphia sequence is relentlessly terrifying and will leave audiences breathless. And even the smaller/quieter zombie sequences are taunt with nerve-destroying tension.
The PG-13 rating means much of the gruesome violence is off-screen - there are single episodes of 'The Walking Dead' far more graphic than this entire film. While 'Z' strongly alludes to terribly violent acts to individual characters, it makes up for dulled graphic imagery with an near-unstoppable undead army able to overwhelm entire cities and armies. This zombie flick completely delivers on a scale rarely witnessed in any previous zombie-themed flick.
In addition to being a roller coaster of thrills and suspense, 'Z' is also a very smart genre flick. It establishes several rules and conventions - from how quickly victims turn into zombies to the monster's animal-like traits - and consistently follows its own logic.
'Z' totally succeeds at creating emotionally draining action scenes - but its characters and overall narrative are thin and forced.
Other than being a clearly devoted father and a multi-skilled UN worker (of vague background and skillset), it's never quite clear what makes Gerry (Pitt) such a critical part in the mission for a cure. He's often little more than a 'running guy who witnesses crazy stuff.'
As Gerry travels the globe, he meets a series of characters who seem to serve as mouthpieces for the various ways mankind would respond to such a catastrophe. These characters wax philosophical, offering some commentary on human nature. While interesting, these conversations are too shallow to leave much of a lasting impression.
It's very evident that 'Z' is an adaptation of a popular novel. The book itself chronicles a series of disconnected events that all relate to the zombie outbreak. The film feels like several of these sections were hastily patched together, with Gerry serving as the central through line connecting each segment. 'Z' successfully creates its own horrible iteration of a zombie outbreak, but the movie's connective tissue - what brings Gerry from one corner of the world to the next - is often a tortured piece of dialogue that forces the plot ahead unnaturally.
Basically, 'World War Z' is a cobbled together set of awesome zombie outbreak scenarios that are oddly stitched together by one man's global jet-setting adventures blessed with very convenient timing.
When it comes to overall excitement and scale, 'Z' is very similar to 'War of the Worlds' - in that both start off with incredible action sequences, but each successive set piece gets smaller and smaller, until limping awkwardly to an unsatisfying end.
Final verdict: the thrilling, entertaining and intense aspects of 'World War Z' far outweigh its odd composition and lack of character or narrative depth.