Never in a million years did I ever thought I would like two Zack Snyder movies in the same year, let alone in a short amount of months. With the respect I gave to him for releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League and just recently with his second take on a zombie story with Army of the Dead, maybe he’s understanding what’s to like about his films and what needs improving.
What’s the Story: After a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries, lead by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) takes the ultimate gamble by venturing into the quarantine zone for the greatest heist ever to steal $200 million from a vault underneath a casino before the entire city gets nuked by the U.S. Government.
It was nice to see the director coming back to the horror genre after pushing out big-budget superhero movies that have divided many with a movie I know most won’t take seriously. Most probably didn’t know is his directorial debut came in the form of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, which is not only one of my favorite horror remakes, but it’s his best-directed film to date. However, this is more of a standalone movie rather than an actual sequel. But it sounded cool to see him tackle on an original idea since he has thought of this since early 2007, and after not seeing the light of day until a decade later, it was a good thing Netflix gained it since they’re able to stream almost anything that’s on the same level as a blockbuster usually seen in theaters. Was I going to expect Army of the Dead to be a grand masterpiece to come out? Of course not. But in a period where seeing zombies in the media is trying a while now, I can totally see this latest film being one that stays in the entertainment eye for a while.
This would’ve been an impressive experience to see this in the theater since it was playing near me in the one theater that shows Netflix movies on the big screen, but I still might’ve had the same thoughts walking out. Just the opening leading up to the title sequence of Las Vegas becoming a total chaotic city set to a cover of “Viva Las Vegas” was one of the coolest openings I’ve seen in a while, as everyone else has said already. And you can tell Snyder wanted to have all control with this since he’s not only the director, co-writer (with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold), and co-producer; he’s his own cinematographer on this project. Just the idea of him doing another zombie was exciting enough, but those expectations are even greater when you also mix it in with an action movie involving a heist. Something like this sounds as if it came straight out of a video game that would require multiple people to play online, but it does so in a way that appeared unexpected in places. The premise enough is impossible to pull off in the actual world, and because we’re seeing this team going in very dangerous territory, it heightened the stakes when you assume it would be a straightforward job. Pulling off a heist is hard enough, but with zombies all around, anything could happen, especially when there’s a freakin’ zombie tiger.
Dave Bautista rarely gets to be in the lead sometimes, but he’s the leader here, and this is one of his best performances of his career. But I was more surprised to see that his character in Army of the Dead has this emotional range I never would’ve guessed years back, and he does a great job at being relentless in the action, but when acting alongside Ella Purnell as his daughter Kate. It’s clear their relationship isn’t the best after a traumatic moment changed happened, but you can see them trying to reconnect when there’s a reason she wants to go inside the city too that’s honestly not as important for the viewer to care for. The rest of the cast, in general, worked excellently together, from Omari Hardwick (Vanderohe), Ana de la Reguera (Maria Cruz), Nora Arnezeder (Lilly), Matthias Schweighöfer (Ludwig Dieter), Tig Notaro (Peters), Garret Dillahunt (Martin), Raúl Castillo (Guzman), and Samantha Win (Chambers).
Most of them are the typical characters usually found in heist movies, yet still, have them to be invested by in wanting them to survive. Besides Bautista’s Scott, three characters/ performances were my other favorites: Hardwick, Schweighöfer, and Notaro. Hardwick and Schweighöfer as Vanderohe and safecracker Dieter, respectively, were a pairing that I didn’t think would be a highlight. But they bounced off each other well in their scenes together. Notaro brought her dry humor to this as helicopter pilot Marianne Peters, and I keep forgetting she came in as a replacement for pervert Chris D’Elia, and it’s incredible how they added her in with reshoots and green screen because it appeared seamlessly, in my opinion.
The scale of the action knows when to be intense, when it has to be around its Las Vegas apocalyptic setting and some convincing visuals. Everything that we already saw in Dawn of the Dead doesn’t go that grounded here since it goes for over-the-top and crazy, in a bloody account. How the zombies are portrayed here takes it in a different route where there are your regular fast zombies and those who answer to their king and queen that are more intelligent than we think. They know the goal and we know it too, so it’s tough knowing anybody won’t make it when time is running out. Guns firing, brains being shot out, gore galore, that’s what you get here. One of my favorite sequences involves walking past these hibernating zombies in this dark building and having to find their way out without making a sound. But everything kicks in around the third act where you don’t want a moment to slow down since you’re really wanting to know if everything falls into place with no problems.
As much as there’re tons of enjoyment to be had with Army of the Dead, there’s no way of saying this was a perfect movie. For starters, was there a good reason this was about 148 minutes? No, which is a complaint I have about most of Snyder’s movies with its lengths in the past, and in here, there were some scenes in the first act that seem to drag in its setup that could’ve made this 10 minutes shorter. Some moments of dialogue didn’t sound right said by a few characters. And while Snyder as the DP is beautiful and creative with Red Digital Cinema cameras, shots where the backgrounds sometimes look blurry in its Depth of Field were a little distracting.
We have not touched a lot with the genre, but there’s a credit to Snyder for bringing in this alternative world that’ll be interesting to know if it’ll follow through. The future holds some promise with its potential franchise where I would like to know more within the universe. We’re already getting two prequels later on in an anime prequel series along with a spin-off called Army of Thieves that was announced this past fall. It’s going to be a movie that will differ for those who’ve been hardcore fans of his and those who aren’t. Compared to Dawn of the Dead, his first foray into film is better, but there’s still enough in here to say it earns being re-watchable. Either way, if you watched it in the comfort of your home or caught it out in theaters the week before, there’s nothing left to do but to turn your brain off, knowing full well what you’re jumping into, and just be glad we have another movie from him that didn’t end up as a disappointment.
Final Thoughts: Army of the Dead is a lot more fun than I expected. Though it’s far from perfect amongst everything we’ve seen from him, Zack Snyder delivers another entertaining zombie flick that’s ridiculous but knows you’re going to have a blast watching it. A unique story combining action, horror, and a heist altogether? I thought it was cool.