May 14th, 2021
MOVIE: ARMY OF THE DEAD
STARRING: DAVE BAUTISTA, ELLA PURNELL, ANA DE LA REGUERA, GARRET DILLAHUNT
DIRECTED BY: ZACK SNYDER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Like a bowl of nuts that are tough to crack, there’s a lot of frustrating things about the films of Zack Snyder. He’s undoubtedly a talented director, with an eye for the large scale theatrics, and ability to entertain the masses, and yet, his films never hit the mark of perfection. We already saw this with his exhausting vision of Justice League this year, but now he’s moving on with something more fresh. With Army of the Dead, Snyder attempts to recapture the success he had with his remake of Dawn of the Dead, reviving the zombie genre and mixing in a heist plot in a desert city of the undead. It’s a near hit, with an excellent setup, gnarly flesh eaters, and a big scale setting. The ending part still seems to be something that Snyder can’t get right, building a cool, big scale concept, and forgetting how to flesh out the adventure. Army of the Dead is fun when it’s not thinking too much.
It all takes place in Las Vegas, where the zombies have been boxed into sin city by walls of storage containers, and the U.S. is set to drop a nuclear bomb to rid the world of all the walkers. Dave Bautista stars, as burger flipper and big military man Scott Ward. He survived the initial outbreak, but his wife did not, and it created a rift with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). He’s approached by wealthy businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), with the offer to put a crew together, go into the hot zone, and break into a vault underground of his hotel. Ward will receive a cut of fifty-million to make his life better than before, but all he has to do is survive. Easy to say, impossible to do, especially when it includes fighting off zombie tigers, crew members you can’t fully trust, an impenetrable vault, and the threat of death all around.
An interesting factor with Army of the Dead is that it’s by far one of Snyder’s most visually appealing films. The torn down, apocalyptic looking Las Vegas is amazing, with cars flipped over, every hotel on the strip destroyed, and massive hoards of zombies. There’s also an inventive collection of undead. They don’t mindlessly move, but have created their own zombie utopia, making it incredibly hard for the crew to outsmart the monsters. There’s a beefed up zombie king and a wild, sprawling zombie queen. The crew must offer up a sacrifice before they walk into the wasteland, but after that, it’s fighting off zombies left and right to get to their goal.
The most disappointing parts of Army of the Dead are choices that characters make later on. The screenplay is written by Snyder, Shay Hatten, and Joby Harold, which gives Bautista’s character the bear minimum of life and inspiration. His daughter goes along, all in hopes to rescue her lost friends, which forces his character to deal with the pursuit of money, while protecting his only family. He’s still a bit surface deep, not that you expect much from the Guardians of the Galaxy star, but his character is overshadowed by the friendship of safe breaker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer) and military buddy Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a pair of characters that deserve their own spin-off, if you ask me. It’s when the action draws to the finale where the horse separates from the cart, with characters making decisions that put others in danger, and the hidden agenda reveal is an even dumber choice than why the crew was breaking into the vault in the first place. Snyder attempts to make the theatrics have deeper meaning, when the real fun stuff is the expert makeup and special effects. Without them Army of the Dead is a bigger mess.
The intentions in Army of the Dead are good, but it’s an incredibly frustrating picture. It’s filled with top of the line visual effects, a motley crew of characters that are inspired by James Cameron’s Aliens, a scenario that draws from George Romero’s Day of the Dead, and the spectacular introduction to a zombie tiger. Much like the helicopter piloted by Tig Notaro’s character Peters, it seems that Zack Snyder has a great eye for how to make a movie, but he’s not entirely sure how to land the sucker. Army of the Dead has plenty of pop in the step, but it’s completely lost in the hot sun along the way.
ARMY OF THE DEAD IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY MAY 14TH AND ON NETFLIX MAY 21ST.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady