Surprisingly, World War is a film dense with ideas. These concepts are well-executed, both as large-scale set pieces such as a Philadelphia zombie wave to a small, nuanced moment of hushed suspense in a medical facility. As relentless and engaging as some of these ideas may be, they are essentially singular events that require adequate exposition and narrative propulsion to mean anything. World War Z does not have this quality. Instead, it moves cryptically, relishing in outside-the-frame moments that add and show nothing. Disjointed and problematic all around, World War does have an appealing, visceral quality that gives its bombastic qualities a measure of lasting appeal.
With three credited screenwriters and well-publicized production issues, the scarred tissues and ligaments that unite this Frankenstein of a film are apparent from the start. Perplexingly structured from start to finish, World War Z is unable to adhere to any sort of tonal pacing. But this apparent rejection keeps Marc Forster’s film at a constant unease – both a victim and savior of circumstance, World War Z has an unpredictable quality that makes some of its more plodding aspects excusable. Forster, an adequate if not memorable formalist, works his way around his obvious limitations in directing a PG-13 film out of R-rated material. While he may at times lazily cut out moments of brutality by simply leaving them out of the frame, he does capture the micro and macro schisms of the zombie apocalypse by both deploying well-timed close-ups and long shots. Perhaps the secret to it all is his lead actor. While some may question Brad Pitt’s decision take this sort of role following stints with established auteurs like Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), he’s an appropriate fit. With age, his rugged features complement his character well. Compounded by his character’s familial obligations, the appeal of his role is outwardly apparent.
As flighty and unpredictable as the film may be, World War Z is plagued by its own inconsistencies. The once tense visage of zombies en masse losses their appeal as action takes precedence. And with little exposition to maintain the film’s forward movement, scenes and characters bare no thematic importance. When the boiling turmoil of the apocalypse settles to a quiet simmer in the film’s compelling final act, one can’t shake the zombie fatigue. Early in the film, Brad Pitt’s character notes to a hiding family the need to move forward - it’s the mantra that World War Z relentlessly runs with until its very end. As viscerally appealing as World War Z may be, the film’s constant sprint blurs its trajectory and sputters out of control. When this happens, the film dies, only to be reawakened for a second, a third, and perhaps even a fourth gasp of life.