The Swarming Dead
Unlike Contagion's slick juxtaposition of multiple viewpoints, World War Z's global disaster sticks close to its hero, UN troubleshooter Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt). When the zombie plague sweeps across the world, Lane manages to get his family to a safe berth on a fleet of ships anchored far from land, but in return must help a young scientist search for the source of the disease and a possible cure. The first half hour, with its focus on survival in a city where zombies and panicking citizens are running amok, is rather terrific, but the story quickly loses momentum as Pitt treks from place to place, brow furrowed, collecting plot coupons. There's a great cameo from David Morse as a renegade CIA agent caged in an overrun airbase for smuggling arms to North Korea (which stopped the plague spreading by defanging all of its citizens), and for a moment I hoped he'd partner up with Pitt and inject a little drama and oddball to-and-fro into the exposition, but no, Pitt is off on his solo quest again. This time to Jerusalem, and then to a WHO health facility in Cardiff of all places, and the story's energy dissipates in a final section that appears to have been bolted on from a different film with a much lower budget, before abruptly ending.
Director Marc Forster marshals some impressive action scenes, notably zombies swarming like insects over a city's defences and a neat zombies-loose-on-a-plane bit, but these are interspersed between a great deal of solemn exposition, the global scope of the disaster is conveyed mainly by glimpses of news feeds and a single nuclear explosion, we're never really made to care about the fate of the hero's wife and kids (who are mostly written out of the second half of the film), and the PG-13 rating means that there's none of the mayhem and spatter you expect from a zombie film. Apart from some shoot-em-up stuff, most of the action, like a post-Hayes code film, is above the waist, which leads to a risible moment as Pitt struggles to tug the business end of a crowbar from a downed zombie like a golfer lining up a difficult putt. It's by no means the disaster that some are claiming, but despite its gloomy ambition, this hybrid fails to deliver a coherent story.