World War Z has almost nothing to do with the novel it shares its name with. Let's start right there, because if you're going to be disappointed with anything less than a faithful adaptation of the source material, this is not the movie for you. Save yourself the price of admission, stay home, and cozy up for a re-read of the fantastic book by Max Brooks. For everyone else, World War Z is a surprisingly complex entry in the genre, and while it doesn't often deviate too far from the familiar, it's still an experience that manages to both dazzle and disappoint at the same time.
The film follows Brad Pitt as a retired U.N. investigator who is called back into action after a sudden and catastrophic global outbreak of zombie-ism. Unlike the Romero-inspired undead that populate the novel, World War Z's zombies have much more in common with the running, convulsing, frothing at the mouth variety that 28 Days Later made popular.
On that note, 28 Days actually provides a pretty interesting companion piece for World War Z. Whereas 28 Days told its story through the quiet moments, the eerie deserted streets and abandoned buildings, only occasionally punctuated by sudden outbursts of violence, for much of its runtime, World War Z revels in the destruction.
This is a level of devastation on par with a Roland Emmerich disaster movie, and a tone that really gives the film a chance to showcase zombie-inspired mayhem as we've never seen it before. Instead of dealing with the small packs of undead we've become accustomed to, we get to see what a million zombies are capable of, a refreshing change of pace that sets the stakes and really hammers home just how close humanity is to extinction.
Well, for much of the runtime that is.
The production problems of World War Z are no secret, and despite some reportedly amazing stitch work by Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard, the story is still far from seamless. It opens strong, builds into some incredible set pieces, and then strangely and suddenly transitions into what I can only describe as an entirely different movie.
Granted, each of these disparate halves are both pretty compelling, but they fail to link together to form a cohesive narrative before abruptly dumping us into a very open ending. It's not that World War Z is a bad movie, far from it. It's just that it feels like several very good movies loosely strung together.
Story problems aside, World War Z is certainly a sight to behold. It's by far the biggest zombie spectacle we've ever seen, and even when the visual effects feel a bit cartoonish, the pure ambition of it all carries the larger set pieces through.
The camerawork, on the other hand, frequently borders on the incomprehensible, and this is coming from a fan of found footage films. The bouncing, jarring, quick cut style of many of the action scenes were probably meant to emulate the chaos of the moment, but they mostly just gave me a headache. Luckily, these moments are more often than not outweighed by the epic, breathtaking vistas of World War Z's apocalyptic scope.
All in all, the film is mature, it's interesting, and it's undoubtedly thrilling throughout, so it feels almost unfair that my major criticism is that it simply isn't enough. Each element of the film feels part of a larger, better movie, and despite how much I enjoyed myself throughout, the film failed to leave a lasting impression. When it wants to be, World War Z is popcorn entertainment at its best and brightest, but the real tragedy is how much more it could have been.