Synopsis – Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.
My Take – Grand launching a directorial career by remaking filmmaker George A Romero’s iconic Dawn of the Dead (1978) doesn’t immediately sound like a good idea, especially considering how highly regarded the original still continues to be. But armed with his fresh style and unique approach, Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake ended up being a considerable success upon release, which, along with filmmaker Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and filmmaker Paul W. S. Anderson‘s Resident Evil, managed to thrust zombie mania back into the 2000s cultural frame.
However, ever since, as a filmmaker, Snyder has been primarily focused on bringing comic book adaptions to life, ranging from the highly successful 300 (2006) to Watchmen (2009), which polarized both fans and critics alike, to building the contentious DC Cinematic Universe which included Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and the recently recovered Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), the mind boggling 242 minute long cut which released after immense support and pressure from fans, all the while occasionally dabbling in original content, Sucker Punch (2011), and family affair like Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010) to abysmal commercial results.
With his bridges now seemingly burnt with Warner Bros., the studio which has backed all his projects except his debut, for his latest, armed with a killer idea, director Snyder has tied hands with Netflix for a new universe (which includes a completed prequel film and a spin-off animated TV series) which sees him going back to basics, while retaining his foot in blockbuster territory, akin to his filmography.
All platted with a diverse cast, a heist, a bunch of undead, light humor, a ravaged urban landscape and plenty of big guns as well as hints of political commentary, to cater to his fans and non-fans alike. With the main goal simple: to deliver an action-heavy gory entertainer.
Resulting in a film that doesn’t carry the same level of punch as its 2004 spiritual predecessor, yet is without a doubt a fun knuckle ride from start to finish that satisfies on the basis of sheer entertainment value. Nevertheless, an undeniable part of your enjoyment of Zack Snyder‘s latest will be directly tied to your tolerance of the distinctive filmmaker’s work as a whole.
Beginning with an accident which sees a military transport colliding with a ruckus pair of newlyweds on a highway, leading to the unleashing of dastardly undead contained inside, who after making fast work of the soldiers sets its sights on Las Vegas, and begins its rampage, leading to the city being cordoned off from the rest of the world.
Months later, the story follows Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), who despite saving the Secretary of Defense from the Vegas catastrophe and earning a medal, is now flipping burgers in a low-rent diner, away from his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who works as a volunteer at the refugee camp for displaced Vegas citizens, living a low life. That is until he is approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a billionaire, who offers him $50 million of the $200 million worth of tax-free money, locked away in the nearly impenetrable safe of his former hotel.
Seeing this as an opportunity to gain favor with Kate, and turn his own life around, Scott accepts and enlists: Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a former philosopher turned soldier; Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), a rough-and-tumble mechanic; talkative helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro); Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), an eccentric German safecracker; Mikey Guzman (Raul Castillo), a sharp-shooter with a YouTube channel where he kills zombies; his friend Chambers (Samantha Win); an abusive security guard Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi), and Lily (Nora Arnezeder), who has a reputation for getting people in and out of the walled city. To keep tabs on the group, Tanaka adds his slimy head of security Martin (Garret Dillahunt) into the mix.
Further complicating matters is that they have only 48 hours to secure the money, because the President has ordered to nuclear bomb the forsaken city, and Kate, despite Scott’s protests, ends up join the group to rescue Geeta (Huma Qureshi), who along with two other refuge women ventured into the zone to crack open a slot machine for funds, but ended being stranded among the zombies.
This is a long film, but it doesn’t feel long, mainly because it is sporadically ambitious in terms of world-building, and frequently stupidly fun. The film’s whopping 148-minute runtime is tidy compared to the director’s cut of Justice League. But both films brim with wonderful concepts, captivating set pieces, and obtrusive world building that shrouds the earnest merits behind their primary narrative.
With fast-moving zombies, big guns, and even bigger personalities, director Snyder’s film will satiate his hardcore fan base, even when his oversized ambitions are slow to a crawl.
The screenplay by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold works best when it focuses on the action set pieces – among them a tense walk through a dark passage filled with hibernating zombies and a bloodbath on the casino floor, an opening credits sequence that hits both dark comic and tragic notes, and an ending that is so wonderfully over the top that it hits all the marks you’d hope for from a zombie blockbuster.
While the film’s parts are familiar, the execution and assembly is where the film shines as it uses a suitably grungy look (the cinematography is also by Snyder) and imaginative sets of a ravaged Las Vegas seething with revivified versions of former gamblers, Elvis impersonators, and at least one magnificently zombified white tiger.
Though the film shares a feeling of camaraderie among the cast, with this many characters, it can be a little difficult to service them all effectively, which is one of the film’s biggest drawbacks. The film paints its characters pretty thin, often reduced to just a series of descriptions I am told rather than shown. The film also lacks a cohesive story that leaps in logic toward the films conclusion.
Director Zack Snyder‘s phenomenal eye for action and visual spectacle are showcased from beginning to end however there are side stories that take up a good amount of time that could’ve been better spent building up our main protagonist’s backstory. Instead of focusing on Kate’s uninteresting side arc we could’ve learned more about Ward himself. Sure we knew a decent amount about him but all that info felt surface level due to the quick breaks of exposition dumps throughout the film.
Especially considering how good Dave Bautista is as the lead, who not only effortlessly taking on the action set pieces, but also getting some nice moments of levity from his deadpan delivery of discussing his character’s dream of different food truck ideas. In comparison, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Tig Notaro, Garret Dillahunt, and Theo Rossi also get to shine, with Nora Arnezeder, certainly making an impression.
However, Ella Purnell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Raul Castillo, Samantha Win and Huma Qureshi are stuck with underwritten parts. Richard Cetrone and Athena Perample as the king and queen of the Alpha Zombies are excellent. On the whole, ‘Army of the Dead’ is a bloated, silly, absurdly gory action filled zombie heist film which despite its story telling issues manages to be good mindless fun.
Directed – Zack Snyder
Rated – R
Run Time – 139 minutes