June 22, 2013 -- This is one of those Hollywood films that was beset with problems from beginning to end, with expensive release delays, re-writes and re-shoots. Shooting started in July, 2011 in Malta. Then came some re-writes, followed by re-shoots in the fall of 2012. There was even a story of gun props being seized from the film crew by an anti-terrorist squad.
While the resulting film isn't awful, it isn't quite good, either. By the end, I was impressed with the epic scale of the story, the expensive special effects and the high production values, but I also had a distinct feeling of “is that all there is?”
This is a fairly typical zombie apocalypse movie, set on a world stage. Starting in Philadelphia, the story quickly jumps to South Korea, then it jumps to Israel, then to Cardiff in Wales. It was actually shot in Malta, in Glasgow, Scotland, and in Budapest, Hungary. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a UN investigator pressed into service to find “patient zero” of the Zombie plague. He is basically blackmailed into taking this dangerous job in order to protect his family. Typical reluctant hero.
Lane chases leads from one nation to another in his investigation to try to solve the mystery of the disease that is causing the zombie plague. The disease is impossible, of course, with infection to full-blown disease happening in just a few seconds. The zombies are fast, strong and violent. Like most zombies they don't attack each other. They attack only uninfected humans. They are basically the living dead, muscles are animated even when the rest of the body is gone. There is no explanation for how dead muscles are animated, or what the source of energy is for all this frantic motion.
Lane hopes to find the source of the plague, so that a vaccine can be developed to save what is left of the human race. He makes observations, chases down rumors, and tries frantically to stay one step ahead of the murderous zombies in a desperate effort to solve the mystery while there is still time.
The zombies that are seen close up look very creepy with very convincing makeup effects. The zombies seen at a distance, move incredibly fast, and act like swarming army ants. They look like computer graphics creations, and probably are.
There are little problems here and there with the story, such as the “final solution” to the zombie problem, which is based on an observation by Lane that seems pretty obvious. I wondered why nobody noticed this sooner. Then there is the rather obvious solution to the zombie problem by using something like a giant fly trap (zombies are attracted by noise). You know, “zombies check in, but they don't check out.” There is a young, presumably orphaned, boy tagging along with Lane's family. I kept waiting for some kind of resolution to his status, but this dramatic opportunity was missed.
Lane's wife (played by Mireille Enos of “Gangster Squad”) and daughter, Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) are almost forgotten later in the film. There is a late attempt to generate some drama by putting them in danger, but it doesn't really work. I got the feeling there were scenes missing from the film that would have made Lane's family a bigger part of the story. This is a dramatic element that seemed to be missing. Maybe other things were missing from the film as well.
This movie seems to be a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing. More than that, however, is the fact that the pieces it does have are all borrowed from other movies. Near the end of the film, you can actually see where the screenwriters added the “Die Hard” scenes for some extra suspense. That didn't quite work, either. When I saw the “Die Hard” setup I could see that all it was going to do was delay the end of the film for a few minutes.
Brad Pitt, of course, is a dynamic star and he does his best to keep the story moving. Later in the story, he is paired with Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz, who plays a soldier, Segen, but there is not much for her to do. Character development is missing in action in this film. There is a job to do and they do it. Very workmanlike, almost routine. The story is about procedure. It is a kind of mystery story, but you never feel like any progress is being made solving the mystery until, bang! Problem solved. Then it is suddenly all over, and I've got that “is that all there is?” feeling. This film rates a C+.
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