The road to the big screen for Marc Forster’s big budget adaptation of Max Brooks’ acclaimed book bringing an undead apocalypse to life, has been as laboured in its pace as the early breeds of the flesh eating hordes. Fans up in arms with the various deviations diluting the substance of its source material, coupled with various production mishaps including a reshoot of its finale. Away from such issues, zombies have rarely taken centre stage in a blockbuster feature and they are undoubtedly at the height of their popularity (The Walking Dead a notable mention). Marking such an occasion with the inclusion of Brad Pitt whose own credibility has found new leases of life in recent times (The Tree Of Life and Moneyball), can ‘Z’ defy low expectations?
Disregarding the ‘first hand accounts’ approach integrated by Brook, director Forster wastes little time on exposition and briefly establishes the dynamics of the tight-knit ‘Lane’ family. Merely hinting at the chaos that will inevitably ensue through a provocative opening credits montage, Pitt plays Gerry, a former investigator for the United Nations who has been reduced to the standard of being a home-bound father/devoted husband to wife Karin (Mirelle Enos) and two children.
Based in Philadelphia, a standard trip into the heart of the city soon descends into a fierce warzone as innocent bystanders are swarmed by a relentless barrage of zombies. A pandemic that has left the inhabitants of this world either crippled with fear or with a sudden lust for human flesh, higher authorities are eager to discover its origin. Soon making a mockery of his ‘retirement’, Gerry is deemed the solitary hope for humanity as he trots across the globe in search for answers.
‘Z’ certainly captures the scale of such a bold premise, with sweeping aerial shots of such unsettlingly epic sights adding a sense of urgency to proceedings. Unfortunately, the frenetic editing quickly grows tiresome and starves the film of any real momentum and sense of terror. The toned down approach to its displays of violence almost proves ill-fitting of its ’15′ certificate which may bemuse hardcore fans of such fare, with abrupt cutaways of its supposedly unsettling ‘threat’ likely prompted by a studio’s aim to appeal to the masses.
As Forster desperately scrambles for a consistency in tone and pace, only merely skirting around the fringes of the political sub-text that lurks beneath the surface here, at least ’Z’ is anchored efficiently by an engaging and grounded performance by Brad Pitt. In a film sorely lacking in heartfelt human interaction or regard for life, it’s no surprise that his co-stars Eno and fellow Brit Peter Capaldi in particular are merely reduced to looking concerned.
With only its tense albeit modest final act remotely impressing and having a true essence of its sub-genre counterparts, ‘World War Z’ sadly is a disjointed and bloodless affair that may mildly entertain the uninitiated, but will undoubtedly leave its core audience unsatisfied by its conventional approach.