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Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead Filmmaker Zack Snyder has had quite an explosive 2021. Fueled by one of the most successful fan-driven campaigns in cinematic history, his cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE was released on HBO Max earlier this year after years in limbo. His vision was so vastly superior to Joss Whedon’s disastrous production, that it proved that the DC Universe may hold some promise after all. Most recently, in May, another production that has been in development for years was released as well. ARMY OF THE DEAD allowed Snyder to get back to his zombie roots, delivering an action epic that proves that the big budget blockbuster is back.

Snyder’s film debut came in 2004 with a remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. At the time, zombies were experiencing a renaissance, in large part due to Danny Boyle’s incredible 28 DAYS LATER. It was no easy task for a first-time director to tackle the George R. Romero classic, but Snyder’s DAWN was a thrilling, horrific, shocking spectacle. He followed that up with hits (300) misses (SUCKER PUNCH) and controversies (WATCHMEN), but at the very least, he always boasted a unique vision that made his productions stand out.

With a running time that clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours, ARMY OF THE DEAD is a loud, messy, violent, grotesque, hilarious, adventure. After a military transport goes horribly wrong, Las Vegas never stood a chance. A very angry zombie, along with a few new zombie pals, struts into Sin City to have a little fun. After this brief intro,
the credit sequence begins. As the delightful Richard Cheese (who was also expertly utilized in DAWN OF THE DEAD) begins his phenomenal rendition of “Viva Las Vegas” we watch as the city falls in a glorious, gratuitous orgy of violence. Any question as to what the tone of this film was going to be was settled right then and there. Tearing flesh, severed limbs, exploding faces, its all here. We are given brief glimpses of characters that will be important later, but in these opening moments, it’s all about the visuals. I’m fairly certain that most audience members will know within these first few minutes whether this is going to be for them or not. If you’re looking for another 28 DAYS LATER, you’re not going to find it here. Sure, there is a story, but this is about shock, awe, and adrenaline.

After the rousing opening, we are introduced to Scott (David Bautista.) Working as a cook in a diner, he is shocked when kajillionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches him with an opportunity. Form a team, head back into Vegas (which has now been quarantined and overrun by zombies) break into a casino safe, extract the hundreds of millions that can be found there, and sail off into the sunset before the city is nuked by a president who thinks it’ll be “really cool” and make for “the ultimate firework show.”

ARMY OF THE DEAD thrives when the zombies are charging, the music is bumping, and the bullets are flying. There are moments that give the distinct impression that you are watching an ultra realistic-looking video game, and while this type of statement isn’t generally viewed as a compliment, in Snyder’s world, it works. You suddenly accept that somehow every single person who fires a gun can land a perfect headshot each time they pull the trigger, and ammunition is magically infinite. Blood doesn’t just spatter, it sprays, dousing the lens countless times in an effort to hammer home just how messy this whole affair is.

Aside from the heist, there are all sorts of unnecessary subplots crammed into the extensive runtime. From Scott’s tortured relationship with his estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), to Kate’s search for her missing friend (Huma Qureshi), to the shady actions of an ill-intentioned associate (Garret Dillahunt) of Tanaka, there is a lot going on. The problem is, none of these storylines deliver the emotional impact they are supposed to, and feel a lot more like filler than anything else. The humor and violence land more often than not, but the same cannot be said for the human drama that unfolded.

Credit should be given for trying something new, and Snyder definitely gives us something we haven’t really seen before. Though many of the zombies are merely flesh eating machines, they appear to have a hierarchy. There is an alpha male who marches around donning a cape and helmet, and his queen is still rocking her Vegas showgirl ensemble. The two work in conjunctions with one another, and certainly seem to be in charge. They are the main antagonists here, and pose the biggest threats to our heroes. They also seem keen on starting a family, and as anyone who has seen DAWN OF THE DEAD remembers, Snyder has a knack for delivering unforgettable moments when it comes to zombie babies.

Whereas zombies used to occupy a particular niche in popular culture, they are now everywhere, and have been for over a decade thanks to THE WALKING DEAD. Rather than a movie or two being released here and there, zombies are stumbling around on a weekly basis, and have become so commonplace, that their existence doesn’t illicit fear so much as fascination. That makes crafting an entertaining film pretty tough, because at this point, there’s not a whole lot that hasn’t been done before. A zombie’s menu rarely changes, and we’ve all seen enough stringy shoulders getting torn apart to last us a lifetime. Still, with its gleefully over-the-top nature, exciting action sequences, and rollicking soundtrack, Snyder proves once again that he has what it takes to deliver blockbuster thrills that will appeal and appease his target audience.


RUN TIME: 2h 28min
GENRE: Action, Crime, Horror
STARRING: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
WRITERS: Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Joby Harold

(Now streaming on Netflix)

Brian Miller