Film Review: Army of the Dead
Army of the Dead
Director: Zack Snyder
The Stone Quarry
In Theaters 05.14 and Streaming on Netflix 05.21
It seems like it so little time has passed since Zack Snyder’s Justice League came out and dominated so much of cinematic internet culture. Now, not quite two months later, the newly resurrected God of toxic fandom is back, and this time, he brought more undead with him! Army of the Dead, the first non-DC movie that Synder has made in a decade, has the director returning to the territory of bloated, walking corpses that he first established himself in with both Dawn of the Dead and Rod Stewart music videos.
Army of the Dead takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy)—a displaced Vegas local and former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home—is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Last Samurai), it’s with the ultimate proposition: Break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours.
Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. They include Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera, Nacho Libre, Goliath), an ace mechanic and Ward’s old friend; Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick, Sorry To Bother You), a zombie-killing machine; Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a cynical helicopter pilot; Martin (Garret Dillahunt, Raising Hope), the casino’s head of security; a badass warrior known as the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder, Safe House) and a brilliant German safe-cracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer, Vaterfrueden).
Ward finds an unexpected emotional hurdle when Kate joins the expedition to search for a woman who’s gone missing inside the city. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: Survivors take all.
Army of the Dead has a lot going for it, and Snyder has unquestionably created an epic-scale film filled with eye-popping visuals and plenty of action. The opening sequence is clever and entertaining, and it’s followed by an intricate credits sequence that is like a series of paintings, much like Watchmen. What’s more, the basic concept of putting Kelly’s Heroes into World War Z has plenty of appeal, but where Dawn of the Dead worked so well for being short and focused, Army of the Dead clocks in at an overstuffed two hours and 28 minutes. In trademark Snyder fashion, it gets so caught up in its own excesses that the intriguing plot eventually gets pushed aside in favor of focusing on exploding heads.
Bautista is quite good as the weary and emotionally scarred leader, Schweighöfer and Hardwick have some very fun sequences together, and Notaro steals the movie, but Army of the Dead is overloaded with characters yet decidedly short on character development, a phrase that I’m hesitant to use because it’s tossed around far too often as generic criticism. But considering how little we learn about the members of Ward’s team, to the point where some of the zombies have more individuality and presence, it’s an apt critique here.
Unfortunately, that’s another issue. There’s an interesting idea here concerning the zombies themselves, but it doesn’t really get explored. For me, it wound up making them a lot less scary than the ones in Dawn of the Dead. The scariest thing in this movie by far is an irrelevant cameo by Sean Spicer on a news report.
I’ll always have mixed feelings about Snyder’s work. He’s an incredible visual artist, which is even more prominently on display here with him also serving as cinematographer, and he does a fantastic job. But for, Army of the Dead fizzled out badly in its last 25 minutes. Snyder has yet to prove to me that he can really keep a cohesive story together unless it’s as simplistic a premise as Dawn of the Dead or 300, or he is given a four hour runtime—and for the love of Kal-El, please, no one ever give him a four hour runtime again.
Regardless of how we critics feel, Snyder has certainly made a big comeback this year. I’ll freely admit that I’m curious to see where he goes from here. But mark my words, another Sucker Punch–level disaster is inevitable, especially as long as he’s being given this long of a leash.
It’s hard to deny that the hardcore fans are going to eat up Army of the Dead like a zombie chomping on a brain. I just wish there had been half as many brains involved behind the camera as in front of it. –Patrick Gibbs