I could call World War Z a mess and deride the fact that it doesn’t develop any characters outside of Brad Pitt’s lead, but the film’s undeniably entertaining and effectively, relentlessly paced. Summer blockbusters don’t typically move in this matter-of-fact way, jumping from one global staple to the next as they hunt for a cure to a disease that they don’t understand. This is a simple film, with thematic complexities only arising from base ideas of human nature and sacrifice. Yet it’s fundamentally compelling because the movie infuses its large-scale scenes with intimate moments of human struggle.
One of the film’s best (albeit quick) moments involves Brad Pitt defending his wife as two men attempt to rob her in a grocery store. There’s mass chaos, and as one of the men pulls a gun on Pitt’s Gerry Lane, Gerry shoots both men and saves his wife. A police officer approaches, and Gerry puts his hands up as him and his wife accept the punishment they’ll undoubtedly get. The police officer walks right past them, though, focused: he grabs baby food and other items presumably for his baby back home. This is a story of survival, we’re reminded, and the film showcases those moments with enough brevity that it works wonders on what stands as a mediocre premise.
The film’s final act is oppositely paced, slowed down and driven by one beautifully photographed sequence in a health clinic; it feels like a horror movie at times, although in essence this is an actioner that never gives up. I felt enough of a connection with Pitt’s performance, which is quite impressive, that I forgive the film for its lapses in other characters. The film’s conclusion also does a sort of cop out, hinting more at sequels than concluding its own story. But this is one of rebuilding and human nature. I enjoyed the film far more than I expected, since the action scenes are remarkably well staged (outside of the film’s unnecessary 3D). This might be the first true surprise of the summer.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)