With the possible exception of 28 Days Later, World War Z is the film that makes our eventual zombie apocalypse look most horrifying and unwinnable. It’s not at all a great companion to the novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel, because of course the world’s that small), nor does it provide a great many answers, but it is darkly entertaining and extremely intense.
Even if that intensity comes at the expense of completing a narrative arc, it seems to be the finish line director Marc Forster was running toward anyway, so it’s still a net positive. There’s not much to say about the plot. These things all kind of begin the same way: “Oh shit, I think a zombie just attacked that guy!” And they’re off.
World War Z primes its engine with a Philadelphia traffic jam interrupted by a face-eating maniac, and before you know it, the Northeast is consumed by zombies. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a retired UN investigator called back into action because the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance. The action jumps instantly to South Korea, then Israel, then to Wales (by way of a jarring plane ride). Lots of people die but no one is mourned.
If that sounds like a lot to pack into two hours, you’re right. That explains the intensity; Forster is really moving things along, and that’s great because if you had time to think about it, you’d wonder more about the lack of story. But the pacing (and well-documented, late-in-the-game reshoots) also explains why Matthew Fox and the great David Morse have about 30 seconds of screen time between them.
Despite all of that, this is still a doozy of a ride with incredibly cool and terrifying zombie attacks. Stripped of any of the book’s meaning, World War Z is just an action film now, but it’s a clinic as far as that goes.