"World War Z" will leave you wanting more, in a good and bad way.
That's probably not a sentiment being shared by Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), who is more than likely wishing the whole thing was over with as quickly as possible. And by whole thing we are of course talking about the zombie apocalypse.
At least the one as envisaged by novelist Max Brooks. Brooks' besseller, however, was more of a series of all but unconnected short stories than it was a novel, making pullng a coherent narrative out of it challenging to say the least. Director Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace") has approached the challenge by hiring a veritable cadre of Hollywood's best screenwriters to create a link for some of Brooks' more memorable beats and pound a narrative out of the idea of a worldwide zombie outbreak.
That link is Gerry; at first a seeming bystander to the first days of the outbreak on the streets of Philadelphia, we soon learn Gerry had a previous job as a top notch war crimes investigator for the UN. Which makes him the perfect person to sniff out how the outbreak happened and how it can be stopped.
What that breaks down to is frequent scenes of Pitt reacting to and running from masssive zombie attacks in various international locations, from an army base in South Korea to the now walled city of Jerusalem.
As a whole it's not a bad idea for a movie. The firm and confident direction from Forster keeps each sequence humming along, from the claustrophobic terror of a zombie attack in a darkened apartment building to the insanity of the end of Israel, each sequence delights in its own way. That's particularly true of the Korea scenes, which encompass some of the only humor in what is often an extremely serious movie. James Badge Dale practically steals the film as an Army captain who has found the correct response to zombies - it's a healthy amount of black humor. No one else comes close, probaly because no one else seems like they're having fun.
That's probably not entirely down to the cast, who are generally excellent, or Forster as the tone shifts quickly and forcefully from scene to scene, almost as if you could tell when another writer stuck their hand in.
Another side effect of that is the almost complete lack of character development. Gone is the typcial horror pattern of monster moments broken up by conversations and inner turmoil. In its place is plot point after plot point and zombie sequence after zombie sequence, as the film takes on the appearance of more of a techno thriller than a horror movie. What character or non-plot story there is is reduced to the odd cut away to Gerry's family, stuck on an aircraft carrier somewhere worrying about him. It doesn't exactly build emotional bonds to take you through to the climax.
Which is okay, since there isn't one; "World War Z's" one big failing. Coming in at less than two hours of actual story-related screen time, Forster's film builds and builds and builds, and then without any warning at all it suddenly stops, abandoning its central plot dynamic. It's more than a little unsatisfying to say the least.
I don't say I want a movie to keep going very often. Usually they're longer than they need to be. But "World War Z" could easily be a half hour longer, with a real climax to pay off all the building. Like so many big Hollywood thrillers, "Z" knows how to get your interest and how to keep it, but it hasn't the slightest idea what to do with it. Even with the botched ending there's a lot to like about the film, but it stinks with the rot of missed opportunity.