Back in the early 2000’s, the zombie sub-genre of horror films was undergoing something of a renaissance, with films like Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s own Dawn of the Dead remake. Later in the decade The Walking Dead would be released on TV, Zombieland in cinemas and Left 4 Dead on the video games market. Zombies had now come full circle since George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead – with what had started out as smart, socially and politically driven horror was now fully-fledged blockbuster entertainment. And so, Zack Snyder returns to his roots with a zombie-heist film so incredibly long and over the top that only his other film this year – Zack Snyder’s Justice League will rival it for completely stupid brilliance.
After a glorious opening sequence, in which Zack Snyder relishes in all his profoundly ridiculous styles, Army of the Dead takes its time in getting to the meat of the story. Essentially, what we have is a heist film set in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, which has seen the city of Las Vegas cordoned off from the rest of the country. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) led a, somewhat, successful mission getting people out of Las Vegas before the wall of shipping containers sealed it off, but now lives day to day flipping burgers in a shitty roadside fast food joint. Until, that is, he is visited by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), who wants Scott to retrieve $200 million from his sealed casino vault, before the U.S. military launch a nuclear strike on the city.
Free from the shackles of comic book adaptations and studio interference, director Zack Snyder is once again free to unload as he pleases – while igniting his fan-base with what they will likely ascribe as his resurrection, as if the director himself were rising from the grave. It’s safe to say that Army of the Dead is in no way subtle. From its opening scene, to the standard slow-motion title sequence, it’s clear that Snyder is enjoying himself again. As the bullets fly and the undead run amok in sin city, it feels like a match made in heaven. Add to this a likeable cast headlined by Dave Bautista, it feels like action and gore fans are in for a treat. And to a degree, they are, but as with Zack Snyder’s previous efforts – his desire to leave every orgasmic thought that enters his brain on the screen, means we are left with a film that is drawn out and overly long.
After the initial set-up, Army of the Dead takes a helluva long time to get going. We are introduced to characters, plots and sub-plots are fashioned, political ideals are hinted at and even the zombies now have a hierarchy – with two levels of intelligence on display. The list of human characters is exhausting, the plot absurd (even for a zombie film) and the decision making surpassing Michael Bay levels of stupidity. For the audience, it can become fairly tiresome. And for a film that is two hours and 28 minutes long, far too much time is spent on things that do not matter. A guilt ridden sub-plot reveals the fallout between Scott and his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), while Scott and Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) hint at a long forgotten affection between the two. With clear echoes of James Cameron’s iconic Aliens, Army of the Dead features a sizeable cast – but caring for many of the mercenaries assembled here, or even remembering their names is a task too far, especially as many are mere cannon fodder.
Despite the negatives, Army of the Dead has enough going for it to make it enjoyable. Snyder seems relaxed, telling his own story and letting his own camera work do the talking – Snyder was also the cinematographer on the film. The action, when it finally hits, is bombastic and is deserving of being seen on a big-screen. There is wit and mockery, with one scene in particular aimed at Donald Trump’s inglorious reign as President. The emotional punch is lacking, but its probably for the best that you don’t get too attached to the Dirty Dozen-like cast. For what it’s worth, Zack Snyder and Army of the Dead sets out to do what it intends to. It’s a fun, colourful and gory filled romp through an undead Las Vegas, with Snyder back to his free-rolling best.
Army of the Dead is streaming now on Netflix.