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MOVIES: Army of the Dead - Review

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Despite my misgivings about Zack Snyder’s filmography, I was excited for Army of the Dead. If there’s one thing that that man can do is sell a movie – the trailers are usually the best things about his work, and this is no different here – Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler promises a rip-roaring heist movie set against the backdrop of a zombie-occupied Las Vegas. Not related to his prior zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, it’s always fun to see the director return to his pre-superhero roots and experiment in more original filmmaking not confined by the excessive regulations of a big-budget corporate blockbuster - especially as his debut remains his best work to date.

Army of the Dead opens with a bang – a newly wedded couple near Vegas crash into an army convoy carrying a zombie, which breaks free and turns the soldiers guarding it into the dead. Refreshingly, and almost a relief after a decade of The Walking Dead-inspired media of every zombie film going out of their way to call zombies anything but what they are – Snyder wastes no pretence in calling them the z-word here, and sets them loose in Vegas as all hell breaks loose in the city. That’s just the first twenty minutes, an expanded prologue that was dropped on YouTube as an introduction to the wild, insane world that Zack Snyder promises, before ultimately failing to deliver.

The film feels like it suffers from a victim of bloat, a tighter thriller would have cut about twenty or even thirty minutes and not lost much. The chase-slow-down-chase-repeat structure of a zombie thriller is there as Snyder exercises the formula to eye-rolling predictable effects, you know exactly what’s going to happen from the first frame to the last if you’ve seen even one zombie movie before, and chances are – you have. You need only look at Train to Busan as an almost unbeatable modern example of the genre, or even on television, outside of The Walking Dead, the far superior k-drama Kingdom stakes its claim. Snyder doesn’t try to do much different – its plot is a like-for-like take on the equally mediocre Train to Busan 2, but at least embraces the weirdness of his premise – there’s zombie tigers, and there’s a whole mythology waiting to be unlocked here on Netflix with an animated prequel series due in the near future – if you’re a fan of zombies and of Zack Snyder, you’ll get what you came here for – and then some, it’s a Snyder movie with all the faults and all the strengths of a typical Zack Snyder movie, which can be at once a good thing and a bad thing, depending on whether or not you’re a fan of his work.

The characters are thinly introduced cookie-cutter versions of characters – Dave Bautista gets the most development as the main character, who rescued his daughter and wife from Vegas before having to put his infected wife down, causing a strained relationship between both father and daughter. The rest of the characters are stock stereotypes of your typical zombie movie protagonist, but perhaps rather noticeably, Tig Notaro in particular suffers from having her scenes filmed separately, no real interaction is felt with the rest of the cast and it’s a testament to her brilliance that she’s able to steal every scene she’s in despite this, but you wonder what more of a role she could have played had she been on set at the same time as the rest of the cast. But everyone is thin on the ground in terms of attention received – which would again be fine, if this thriller had spark and was non-stop entertaining, but there was none of that here – it’s entirely predictable, like Snyder had a box he was checking and had to tick off every cliché he could find from both the zombie and the heist movie genres.

The unescapable feel of familiarity is one of Army of the Dead’s biggest problems. Again, maybe less of a factor if it had been shorter, but here – it couldn’t help but remind me of Aliens, and Aliens, Army of the Dead is very much not. There’s a lot of promising ideas here, maybe with a better script, a shorter runtime and some improved cinematography, some of them might have come together. But unfortunately, it falls short of pretty much all expectations.

Army of the Dead is streaming on Netflix internationally now.

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