By Gary Dowell
Marc Forster’s long-awaited, loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ cult novel, World War Z became notorious last year when the release date was pushed by several months, weeks worth of footage filmed in Bulgaria was scrapped, and the script was extensively rewritten in the middle of production. Surprisingly, the seams in the story remain hidden, but it nevertheless fails to rise above anything but a series of action set-pieces strung together with no real sense of gravitas or urgency to propel it.
It begins innocuously, with former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family stuck in a Philadelphia traffic jam that progresses from annoying to unusual to horrific in a matter of minutes. After a terrifying night in Newark, New Jersey (more terrifying than usual, that is) Gerry and his family are rescued by his UN Under-Secretary associate (Fana Mokoena) and whisked to safety aboard a ship serving as a United Nations command post monitoring and seeking a solution to zombie outbreak sweeping the globe.
The Lanes’ respite is short-lived, as Gerry is pressured into joining a mission to South Korea to track down the source of the virus, kicking off a global odyssey with lots of action but very little in the way of pay-off.
World War Z is impressive when it goes big, especially during its siege of a walled-off Jerusalem by a host of the undead (not the traditional shambling kind, but the voracious running, leaping, swarming variety that drive purists nuts) and the subsequent escape flight that gives new reasons for never flying coach.
Unfortunately, it sags between those moments, when the focus shifts from global to personal. Gerry is thinly defined as a character and his development is limited to Finding Clues, Not Being Eaten, and Making Plaintive Phone Calls to His Wife (The Killing‘s Mireille Enos). It regains some of its focus during an exceptionally tense final act at a W.H.O. facility in Cardiff, the macguffin involved is a bit hard to swallow.
It’s also a bit toothless for an epic-scale big-budget zombie flick, neutered by a soft PG-13 rating; five minutes of an average episode of The Walking Dead has more gore than the entirety of WWZ, a detail that may turn-off hardcore fans of the genre. When this 116-minute missed opportunity grinds to a halt with hints of a sequel, the indifference is deafening.