Someone must have thought it was a good idea to hand Marc Forster the reins of the big-screen adaptation of Max Brooks' best-selling tale of an Earth swept by a rabies-like virus that turns its sufferers into ravenous flesh-eaters, ie zombies. After all, one of the Swiss director's earliest Hollywood forays was the moody genre piece Stay, and he had not only directed Halle Berry to an Oscar in Monster's Ball, but also helmed the Charlie Kaufmanesque comedy Stranger than Fiction. But ever since those early successes, Mr. Forster has revealed himself a singularly anonymous talent, making a hash of Daniel Craig's sophomore James Bond effort Quantum of Solace (one of the popular franchise's least-appreciated titles) and becoming the sort of "hack-for-hire" his earlier choices did not suggest, in ultimately generic mid-range titles such as The Kite Runner or Machine Gun Preacher.

     That he would still be given a plum directing job like World War Z despite his singular lack of personality might not be expected, but it does make some sense if you think of this as yet another of the current "filmmaking-by-committee" major studio productions. That the film eventually ended up a troubled production whose delays were well-reported, with a partly reshot ending, shouldn't necessarily be counted against Mr. Forster, but that the final result still manages to be clinically absent and extremely derivative should.

     As freely adapted from Mr. Brooks' novel by a quartet of experienced screenwriters who took turns swinging at the bat (Matthew Michael Carnahan of Lions for Lambs, J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, Cloverfield's Drew Goddard and polymath-du-jour Damon Lindelof, who rewrote the entire third act), the premise ends up very close to Zack Snyder's excellent remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. A mysterious disease comes out of nowhere and infects society as a wildfire, leaving the straggling survivors struggling to find an explanation - and, here, a cure as well. It's not just the premise, though; the main titles, created in both cases by master designer Kyle Cooper, use news and archival footage to suggest this biological catastrophe was unleashed by man himself, in a more streamlined and cleaned-up manner in World War Z than in the grungier, more R-rated effort for Dawn of the Dead. Mr. Snyder's film followed the epidemic through the eyes of normal people caught up in it; Mr. Forster's follows his through the eyes of United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), who travels the collapsing world attempting to trace back the epidemic and see if it can be cured.

     The opening scenes, with a normal Philadelphia morning becoming a disaster zone in no time at all, are the best in the film; quietly unnerving in their sudden descent of chaos on civilization, they do remind of Steven Spielberg's remarkable set-up in War of the Worlds. But, save for the tensely judged Korean military base interlude to where Lane traces back one of the earliest flare-ups, World War Z slowly devolves into a series of episodes (or video-game missions) that seem hung together with thin string wire and are more excuses for zombie mayhem (and toned down zombie mayhem at that, for the sake of ratings probably) than proper narrative movement, recycling ideas and situations from earlier, better films.

     To be sure, there are many interesting ideas being thrown about in the hydra-headed script, from the idea of Jerusalem as a city under siege to the maze-like laboratory where the climactic setpiece takes place. And Mr. Pitt, who also produced the film, is a likeable, believable hero, relatable in a way that Tom Cruise, for example, could have never conjured. But what's lacking in World War Z is any sort of progression, of sequence, of drama, as if it would be enough for the film to line up a series of individually striking sequences that hang together in a slapdash way, with most of the supporting characters being all but discarded throughout without ever becoming more than passing filler. From its strong beginnings, World War Z descends into a hollow attempt at a thoughtful blockbuster - a sort of zombie movie if ever there was one, going through the motions without ever seeming as if it believes in them.

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, David Morse
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, from a story by Mr. Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski, and the novel by Max Brooks, World War Z
Cinematography: Ben Seresin (colour, widescreen)
Music: Marco Beltrami, Matthew Bellamy
Designer: Nigel Phelps
Costumes: Mayes C. Rubeo
Editors: Roger Barton, Matt Chessé
Visual effects: Scott Farrar
Producers: Mr. Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Ian Bryce (Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions, Plan B Entertainment and 2Dux2 in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films)
USA, 2013, 116 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 6, June 12th 2013


Dan O. said…
It’s a good movie if you want a couple of scares here and there, but it stops working after awhile and its flaws begin to show their ugly heads. Good review Jorge.

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