Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead is an action movie disguised as a zombie movie, for better and for worse.
Army of the Dead had the makings of being the next summer blockbuster. Zack Snyder was the director, a man who has and can deliver on the action. He’s also already done a zombie movie before with his positively received directorial debut Dawn of the Dead. The plot of a group of mercenaries infiltrating a zombie-infested Las Vegas to steal $200 million looked compelling. The movie also had the financial and marketing backing of Netflix behind it. What we got instead, sadly, does not meet those lofty expectations. Army of the Dead is no game-changer for the zombie genre, but a fun action movie that is best enjoyed with some friends and a bag of popcorn.
As stated before, the plot of Army of the Dead looked interesting…on paper. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is tasked by shady businessman Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to gather a team and break into a vault in Las Vegas to steal $200 million before the government drops a nuclear bomb on the city. It looked like the movie was going to be Ocean’s Eleven meets zombie movie. But it’s nothing like that. The heist part of the movie falls flat and ends up becoming a generic been-there-done-that heist. You are not going to spend hours after the movie thinking about how the characters managed to break into the vault, because it’s not that complicated.
The zombies meanwhile prove more to be distractions rather than threats. The movie goes to great lengths to show the characters, some of whom do not have combat training, manage to get head shots most of the time even when they are using automatic weapons. It’s only when the alpha zombies show up is when the real danger lies.
The movie does try to give mentions to certain issues like the morality of isolating Las Vegas, the rights of refugees, and repairing broken father-daughter bonds, but there is little to no payoff with these storylines. The horror aspect of zombies is also barely used in this movie which is a shame since it made for one of the best scenes of the movie. It also tries to have some darkly comedic moments which do land, for the most part. Army of the Dead is straight-up dumb fun, a movie that cares more to show people blowing zombies up instead of giving a compelling story.
Satisfying Action, Most Of The Time
The action, for the most part, is pretty good. Zack Snyder delivers his trademark opening montage in this movie, which does a great job at showing how Las Vegas became ground zero and introducing some of the members of the crew. It’s satisfying to see the zombies get shot in the head and get decapitated in a manner of ways. The violence too is on-par for a movie like this. Army of the Dead isn’t a bloodbath, but the blood and guts that spill from the zombies and humans are enough to make some people wince. There’s a scene involving a human and a zombie tiger in the latter half of the movie that standouts out in a good way for its gory visuals.
Too bad the movie isn’t a visual stunner, which is a shame considering Zack Snyder can deliver on the visuals. The majority of the movie’s color palette is 50 shades of brown. Yes, it is a destroyed Las Vegas, but it would have helped if there was more visual flair.
Even if a movie’s story is so-so, it can be saved with memorable and charismatic characters, but Army of the Dead does not have this. The characters we follow aren’t annoying, they’re just not memorable and can come off as cliché. You can already tell the faith of certain characters the moment you meet them. The only characters that do stand out are Tig Notaro’s Marianne Peters and Matthias Schweighöfer’s Dieter. Marianne Peters is a jaded helicopter pilot and Tig Notaro plays her to perfection and delivers the best laughs of the movie. Dieter, meanwhile, is a German lock breaker and the scaredy-cat of the group. He too manages to deliver some laughs but also show some character growth as well.
Credit has to be given to the filmmakers for creating a diverse group of zombies for the movie. You have your typical shambles, but there is also a zombie tiger and the alpha zombies. These zombies are quick, strong, smart, and the leaders of the group. Early on, it is established that the zombies have their own set of rules and “culture” they live by. It’s also nice how some of the zombies still have their Las Vegas costumes on such as when you see showgirl zombies. If ever there would be a sequel, expanding the zombie mythology would be a good place to start because Army of the Dead does not fully answer those questions.
Saturday Night Action Movie
Army of the Dead is no 28 Days Later, not even 28 Weeks Later. It is an action movie through and through. Don’t go into this movie thinking that it’s going to be a genre-defining hit, because it is not. It’s less a heist movie and more Saturday night action movie. Dawn of the Dead is Zack Snyder’s better zombie movie, but at least Army of the Dead provides some fun popcorn entertainment. The action is where this movie shines, not with its characters or story. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, because everything else outside the ride is not that good.
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