Before I canceled my Netflix subscription (sorry, Netflix, but I have too many streaming services), I made sure to go out of my way to check out Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. Now, this is not Snyder’s first dance with the zombies. He remade George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as his first feature film in 2004. That was a fantastic remake of the 1978 film, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, the film stars Dave Bautista, who I am a fan of given his wrestling background.
The premise of the film is that Bautista and his ragtag group of zombie killers are hired to go back into Las Vegas, which has been quarantined as a zombie zone, and break into a vault to collect $200 million for some rich dude. Meanwhile, the president of the United States has set a time limit in which he will nuke the city on July 4 because “it sounds fun.”
That premise is marvelous: a Las Vegas heist film inside of a zombie film. Or a zombie film inside of a heist film. Either way. That’s a great conceit for a film.
Furthermore, with how abundant the zombie genre is, I thought Snyder’s film, which he also wrote along with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, introduced some interesting new elements to the genre. For one, they acknowledged that zombies burn up in the desert heat (although I’m not sure they got enough mileage out of that). Secondly, the idea of there being alpha zombies and queen zombies, and some being smarter than the others and actually organizing, was super interesting. It’s still not clear from this film if the alphas are straight up zombies, some sort of robotic zombie, or maybe even an alien dealio, but in any event, it was the government’s fault. Third, and perhaps my favorite element, is that it was all confined to Las Vegas. The rest of the country went on as normal. The president nonchalantly being like, yeah, it’s fine, we’ll just nuke Vegas, whatever, is great. It feels realistic, as odd as that is to say. But also, that there are people within the quarantine zone who aren’t zombies, but are stuck there anyhow. That’s intriguing.
Oh, and how could I forget the tiger zombie?! Granted, a tiger by itself loose in the city is scary as all hell, but adding the zombie element to it was a cool touch. I enjoyed that.
Now, where I feel like the movie loses itself somewhat is in three main ways: First, Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell), who is Bautista’s daughter in the film. I get that Snyder wanted to add some emotional weight to the story, so they have an estranged father-daughter relationship to work out. That’s fine. I accept that. But Kate’s character tagging along to ostensibly save this woman who was in the camp (because her children are missing her), and Bautista telling her to say by his side (narrator: we knew instantly she wouldn’t), and then for it to go nowhere (what came of the mom?), and for her to get Bautista’s character killed, as far as I’m concerned, really dragged down the film. Get out of here with that! I would honestly get rid of the entire subplot of trying to rescue the mother, which leads to my second issue.
Secondly, the movie’s plot is rather hard to follow. I’m still not entirely sure about the finer details of the film beyond the general premise I gave earlier. Why are people from the camps using coyotes to smuggle themselves back into Vegas? What’s the main villain’s point in trying to capture a zombie queen’s head? Was there a time loop? What’s going on? Third, look at the awesome movie poster at the beginning of this blog post. Colorful! Fun! Yet, aside from a few scenes actually inside the casinos, the film feels very drab and dark, which is at the feet of Snyder, who also did the cinematography on the film.
Heck, I have a fourth: Where’s the sense of urgency?! That was killing me all film. At the beginning of the film, a couple having sex in a car crashes into a military convoy, which unleashes the alpha zombie they were carrying. When the head of the convoy is told about this, he lacks any urgency at all. In fact, he seems downright nonchalant about it, and gets his team and himself killed. Then, throughout the heist and the surrounding zombies with the impending NUCLEAR BOMB THREAT, Bautista and the rest of the gang are having these emotional discussions, or talking about romance, or talking about whatever, and there’s zero sense of urgency! Even when it gets down to literally 20 minutes until the nuke will be dropped, there’s no urgency. It’s a movie, so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that, if you’re still in a city about to be nuked in 20 minutes, there’s no way you’re surviving, but if you have a sense of urgency, I’ll accept it. But this was ridiculous.
That all said, for all the ranting I just did, I still found the movie fun to watch. Because zombies. Because heist. Because mashing up those genres. Even when the film falls short in the ways I’ve outlined, that premise is so fun, it’s hard to not watch along.
The opening sequence, which felt very Zombieland-esque, was awesome. If the entire film had managed to capture that aesthetic and vibe, I think it would have been a lot better overall. Also, the soundtrack was on point throughout.
So, yes, all things considered, I would still recommend it to you. There’s a great movie tucked inside of this film somewhere. The starting premise is great, some of the ideas, if fleshed out more, are great, and Snyder, for my money, has always been great at shooting action sequences, and that’s the case here as well. But the film gets bogged down by a few of the items I mentioned.