World War Z (2013) d. Forster, Marc (USA)
Ostensibly based on Max Brooks' bestseller, one has to wonder why producer/star Brad Pitt even bothered to option the rights considering how far the final product strays from its source material's tone and structure. That said, as far as epic Hollywood undead extravaganzas go, this one gets far more right than wrong in doing what it sets out to do.
Eschewing Brooks' reflective oral history take on the zombie apocalypse, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof instead deliver a linear narrative, with ex-government operative Pitt and his family caught up in the escalating tumult, depicting with ground level immediacy scenes in their native Philadelphia that are presumably echoed around the globe.
Regardless of one's personal predilections in the slow/fast zombie debate, there's no denying that the supercharged undead horde visuals - wheeling and turning like flocks of birds - are impressive and elicit a genuine emotional charge. Pitt does fine work as an ordinary extraordinary man in hyper extraordinary circumstances. Within the fevered pace and pitch, it's slightly frustrating (especially in a post-Walking Dead world) that the gore quotient falls decidedly on the dry side of the fence. A few memorably juicy set-pieces (the head/crowbar extrication moment comes to mind) would have gone a long way - the bloodless route feels, well, kind of anemic.
For his part, Forster seems equally at home balancing scenes of mayhem and pandemonium (airplane attack, the anti-zombie wall) with quieter human moments, but his finest hour might be when he ramps everything down to a whisper for an outstanding suspense sequence in the abandoned hallways of a disease research center. The open ended conclusion indeed lends itself to the prospect of sequels, but it also satisfies in a classic "hopeful start to a long road ahead" fashion.
Taken at face value, i.e. it's not the novel, it's not Walking Dead, etc., WWZ survives as a fine slice of big budget monster movie making.