Army of Dead is a rather meandering movie for being a zombie action heist production.
Published on May 26, 2021
Rating 2 /5
Zack Snyder returns to the world of the dead, having previously cut his teeth in blockbusters with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead (the first film to topple The Passion of the Christ at the weekend box office no less). But his return to zombie action seems to come up short considering both his filmography and the slew of zombie mania that followed at the theater. There’ve been a lot of zombie flicks that have raised the stakes in appeal and awareness, including some insightful black comedies on the subject. Snyder’s films have only grown more operatic over the years as well. So what went wrong with Army of the Dead where it not only feels like a lacking zombie movie but a lackluster Snyder film as well?
Perhaps it’s because of the obligatory montage opening of explaining the zombie that sets expectations far too high. Armed with an Allison Crowe version of Viva Las Vegas, the montage showcases how one zombie was set loose in Las Vegas and the rest of the city struggled to both get out and contain the outbreak. The entire sequence showcases how the city was infested and then closed off by the military, due to be bombed with a nuke to ensure the outbreak doesn’t spread. That’s the movie I’d like to see. What we get instead is a heist movie.
Mere days before the city is to be bombed, a wealthy businessman approaches a ragtag group of guns for hire to complete a mission of infiltrating Vegas to make a big score of money before the bomb drops. The film spends nearly an hour just introducing the character and they’re nothing to write home about. Dave Bautista plays a father saddened by killing his zombified wife and a mercenary who can only find work flipping burgers. When offered the chance to make millions with the ultimate heist, he weighs it on a few expository nightmares before agreeing. Also present among the group is his volunteering daughter and, hey, what a time to resolve that arc of not being a present father.
Other characters include a tough soldier, a deceptive soldier, a viral video star who specializes in killing zombies, a nerdy safecracker, and other cannon fodder (keep your eyes out for the obvious knock-off of Vasquez from Aliens). An interesting change to the casting was Tig Notaro being digitally inserted into the film after all the footage shot with Chris D'Elia had to be scrapped after several sexual misconduct accusations were revealed. Since these edits were proposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, the new scenes couldn’t be reshot entirely and Tig became a digitally inserted character, sometimes appearing quite obvious.
After nearly a full hour of uninteresting character motivations, the heist is finally underway and it’s rather subdued when it comes to the action. This is mostly because the zombies of the Vegas strip are treated less like a massive horde and more like a tribe, complete with a chief, queen, rituals, and even pregnancies. While these unique aspects are thrown into the mix to make the zombies more interesting, there’s little present in how they’re framed to suggest a more intelligent zombie, besides the astute choice of the leader to wear a metal helmet to protect his brains from being blown out.
There are at least some strong kills here and there. Some characters have their skin chewed up and others get their necks twisted completely around unexpectedly. Some characters learn from their faults while others are killed by their own greed. The only noteworthy element I found in any of this, however, was the suggestion that the characters are trapped in a time-loop based on the appearance of previously failed robbers looking exactly like the current band of misfits.
Running at nearly 2.5 hours, Army of Dead is a rather meandering movie for being a zombie action heist production. The casting is decent but the characters are all cookie-cutter renditions of familiar archetypes. The zombies are not all that compelling despite the appearance of a towering zombie king, a decked-out zombie queen, a zombie tiger, and a dead zombie baby. The glitz and allure of such a scenario feel shockingly dead for a film with shootouts on casino floors and helicopters narrowly avoiding buildings. Among the “of the Dead'' films, Army is one of the most disappointing.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.