‘World War Z’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:30 am,

world war z trailer brad pitt World War Z Review

World War Z transforms from an engaging glimpse at post-apocalyptic human endurance into a brainless shell that is as absentminded as its undead subject matter.

Based on the zombocalyptic horror novel by author Max Brooks, director Marc Forster’s World War Z trades the book’s segmented interview structure for a linear jet-setting thriller story – one that takes protagonist Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) from one zombie-infested locale to another. Prior to the outbreak, Lane (a retired UN investigator) is living a quiet life as a stay-at-home dad – happily tending to chores and making breakfast for his wife, Karen (Mireille Enos) and two daughters. That is until a new strain of rabies devastates Philadelphia – as waves of ordinary people turn to vicious killing machines seconds after infection.

When major cities fall and the U.S. military begins to lose control of the situation, UN officials offer to extract Lane and provide his family safe harbor. The offer comes with a price: the UN will house Lane’s family if he escorts a high-level scientist on a mission through zombie-infested locales, to track down the source of the virus in the hopes of finding a cure.

Mireille Enos Brad Pitt World War Z World War Z Review

Mireille Enos and Brad Pitt in ‘World War Z’

Despite the eye-popping images of zombies clambering over one another in the World War Z trailers, Marc Forster is best known for intimate character stories (Stranger than Fiction) – not blockbuster CGI spectacle. As a result, while there is plenty of action in the film, moviegoers hoping for enormous scenes of zombie killing could be underwhelmed by the overall World War Z experience. The enormous zombie crowd shots are attention-grabbing (though most of them were already outed in the pre-release marketing) but Forster’s primary focus is Lane’s search for a solution to the outbreak. The result is an awkward disconnect: the first half of the film is exposition-heavy setup (not the blown-out zombie action depicted in the advertising) and the latter half is the complete opposite (dropping story in favor of lengthy zombie encounters).

Lane’s post-apocalyptic journey ultimately provides interesting ideas and tense zombie moments, but as a full movie experience, it’s a fractured and disconnected set of sequences held together by a paper thin MacGuffin chase. Despite the rich novel source material, the story is extremely familiar, with a number of stale side plots paired with teases that go nowhere. The film spends a lot of time educating viewers on the aspects that make the World War Z outbreak different from previously seen zombie tales, but some of the more interesting concepts are never explored onscreen.

It’s common knowledge that the movie underwent significant eleventh hour reshoots – and the divisions are noticeable. Even though the final product is exhilarating, since the movie benefits from a fresh set of action sequences in the third act, any new material comes at the expense of established story lines that are all but abandoned. It’s a disjointed narrative experience that presents absorbing information up front and then slides into thoughtless blockbuster fare with only a tacked-on explanation to bring everything full-circle (in a surprisingly modest climax).

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Zombie Tsunami in ‘World War Z’

Fortunately, performances in World War Z are strong – even if certain moments border on melodrama. Unsurprisingly, Pitt is a solid lead with a likable balance between no-nonsense survival skills and sympathetic reactions to the horror surrounding him. It’s hardly one of Pitt’s most captivating roles, but the star helps ground a number of key scenes that, with a less nuanced actor in the role, could have easily been eye-rolling instead of engrossing.

Enos (The Killing) is equally effective as Lane’s wife, Karen – successfully selling his reason for agreeing to the mission. The movie doesn’t bother to develop her character beyond the relationship with Lane, but Enos makes the most of her scenes and even gets to flaunt some impressive (albeit brief) zombie-fighting capability. While Enos is downgraded midway through the movie, Daniella Kertesz adds a highly-adept heroine for the latter half – as an Israeli solider, Segen, that accompanies Lane in his investigation. While Segen’s actions don’t always make complete sense (given her knowledge of the situation), they help drive several of the movie’s best scenes of tension and provide Kertesz with several memorable moments to justify her screen time.

Brad Pitt Daniella Kertesz World War Z World War Z Review

Brad Pitt and Daniella Kertesz in ‘World War Z’

Other supporting players including Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ludi Boeken, and even Matthew Fox, get opportunities to shine, but are little more than window dressing (to provide Pitt with receptive listeners for exposition).

Of course, the real stars of the film are the zombies and, for the most part, they deliver a number of cool variations to the genre staples. As mentioned, the best zombie tsunami shots are spoiled in the film trailers, but the efficiency and brutality of the World War Z zombies (who can even spring their bodies into the air to tackle fleeing victims) definitely create plenty of exciting set pieces. Additionally, in service of helping Lane learn more about the outbreak, the film gives the character room to experiment and uncover the various intricacies of this zombie breed. Any of the subsequent revelations aren’t particularly profound, but there is a limited sense of discovery that helps keep things moving even when the story falters.

That said, (zombie horde scenes especially) are often too frantic or CGI-heavy to fully appreciate the scale and scope of the larger sequences – especially in 3D. World War Z is playing in both 3D as well as 2D, and while certain scenes are definitely more immersive and intense with the added 3D effect, viewing the movie in 2D should help mitigate the frenzied action shots for moviegoers who are put-off by shaky-cam-style cinematography. Viewers who don’t mind springing for a 3D ticket will gain some benefit from the upgrade, but cautious audience members who expect a lot of noticeable third-dimension effect when the pay for a premium screening, will likely be underwhelmed by the film’s subtle use of the format.

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Elyes Gabel and Brad Pitt in ‘World War Z’

World War Z is a strange mix of intriguing character drama and story ideas that ultimately caves under the pressure of delivering a summer blockbuster movie experience (with zombies). For many film fans, the  journey from point A to B to C will be enough, but World War Z does little to reinvent or expand upon similar zombie genre offerings – relying heavily on the notion that more zombies makes for a better zombie movie. Unfortunately, certain viewers will be underwhelmed by that approach, since (as the story progresses) World War Z transforms from an engaging glimpse at post-apocalyptic human endurance into a brainless shell that is as absentminded as its undead subject matter, running thoughtlessly toward one over-the-top story bite to the next, while its tethers to humanity rapidly fade away.

If you’re still on the fence about World War Z, check out the trailer below:


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World War Z runs 116 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our World War Z Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our World War Z episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Not great but not bad either. Just don’t go in with high expectations! Two and a half stars.

    • Fair enough.

      Although I’m hearing the lower your expectations mantra to describe almost every blockbuster movie coming out these days.

      But I dont really want to do that.

      And I dont see why I should be expected to.

      • @RobThom

        you are right. so many posters on these boards are quite happy with mediocrity and expect us to feel the same.
        if we are paying $15 to see a movie, it should be good. if $15 is the price for a mediocre movie, then let us know.
        I guess we’ll just have to pay more for the premium movie.
        this is why I go to the movies once a year now. I really wait for a good movie and then I see it. last one I saw was “FLIGHT”.

        not mediocre. it was good.

        I get so tired of people saying ‘it is what it is’ or ‘not bad for what it was’. that’s like hooking up with someone youre not attracted to just because there is no one who you are attracted to or after a few drinks.

        • So was World War Z your one movie this year? Or are you just being a dick?

  2. I saw it over the weekend and really enjoyed it. I do take issue with them basically robbing the book title and then not following that books content but this unfortunately seems par for the course. The movie is aptly named however.

    I’m also more the “Walking Dead” type zombie portrayal as opposed to the crazed, “28 Days later” version but admit they did an excellent job making the lightning fast turn around process a terrifying visage to behold. Struck a cord of terror within me which is an accomplishment for this jaded horror aficionado.

    So if you like zombie movies, you will like this one but if you don’t, why the hell are you going to see it?

    • “So if you like zombie movies, you will like this one but if you don’t, why the hell are you going to see it?”

      What if you’re neither of those.

      What if I dont like a movie just becasue it has zombies in it,
      but I like good movies that are smart and well done,
      with or without zombies?

      Will I like it then?

  3. Should have been titled, World War ZZZZzzzzz….

    • Why? Did you fall asleep halfway through the movie?

  4. “disconnected set of sequences held together by a paper thin MacGuffin chase. …the story is extremely familiar, with a number of stale side plots paired with teases that go nowhere. ….the more interesting concepts are never explored onscreen.”

    That sounds like a certain someones handy work doesn’t it.

    • @RobThom

      What you said sums it up: “…but I like good movies that are smart and well done…”

      It’s succinct and to the point, no matter the “critic” that may be defending or opposing any given film.

      Well said.

    • Sorry, it’s not a Macguffine chase and it’s not paper thin. Get the to tvtropes and educate yourself on that term.

      What would even be the Macguffin? The vials of deadly virus at the end? They are hardly an empty object meant to drive the plot along. They are a very essential tool he’s trying to obtain. They are no more a Macguffin than the red axe was, which it wasn’t.

  5. By the end, I was impressed with the epic scale of the story, the expensive special effects and the high production values, but I also had a distinct feeling of ‘is that all there is?’

  6. I thought it was really good. It was way better than I thought it was going to be.

  7. Just back from cinema and thought World War Z was brilliant loved the ending. Action scene were intense and really well done. Brad Pitt was at his best. Roll on wwz 2.

  8. I saw it yesterday, and I can say it didn’t really impress me much. I laughed out loud at some unintentionally funny scenes. I still don’t understand our society’s fascination with zombies. All this exposure is going to oversaturate the market, much like the Western, and in a few years we will all be sick of it.

  9. I saw the film over the weekend, I must say I quite enjoy it. I guess the loose ends will be dealt with in the second movie. I did see some scenes that were confusing but from what I read in other sources there were also problems in the post production process and especially on the third act. What I liked from it was the suspense. Some other films exaggerate with the use of blood or special effects (i.e. Resident Evil). I hope they solve these issues. Just keep with what works and underpin the story a bit more.

    • What second movie? World War AlphaZeta?

  10. You have got to be kidding. This is suppose to be an entertaining movie? This is just as bad as the war of the worlds remake. How do they get big named actors to do such crap. I guess if they wave enough bucks in front of their nose they will take any part.

  11. Saw this today and I quite liked it. Never read the book so didnt have as many complaints as those that have, but it was a decent time waster. Some suitably thrilling scenes. Zombies on a plane! *shudders*