Zack Snyder is probably the most divisive director of the century. Over the last 20 years, no filmmaker has faced the vitriol which has been targeted at Snyder or been embraced by the fervent adoration of their fanbase. It’s odd – because in reality Snyder isn’t a cinematic genius or a hack – he’s a solid big budget filmmaker who knows how to deliver CGI spectacle.
In recent years Snyder has been at the centre of a battle raging over DC Comics superheroes, which culminated in the controversial HBO Max release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Hot on its heels comes Army Of The Dead, a Netflix film which harkens back to his 2004 debut Dawn Of The Dead. That film was a remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, but this time the story is all Snyder’s albeit with a screenplay from Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold. Sadly, Army Of The Dead is a 2 1/2 hour zombie action movie which fails to bring anything new to the genre. It’s derivative and repetitive with plot inconsistencies galore. It’s all rather stupid and it features a plethora of stupid characters doing some very stupid things. Throughout the film every character makes at least one decision which gets either a team member or themselves killed (sometimes even both).
After a military accident in the Nevada Desert, Las Vegas becomes overrun with zombies. The city is walled-in, leaving the undead to their own devices. With Sin City set to be nuked, sly businessman (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a down on his luck military man to break into the city and take $200 million out of a casino vault in return for a $50 million cut. Ward puts together a crack team to infiltrate the city, steal the loot and make it out before the whole place goes up in smoke. The mission hits a road bump when Ward’s estranged daughter (Ella Purnell) decides to tag along in order to rescue friends who went missing after they decided to sneak back into Las Vegas.
Army Of The Dead is a film which obviously owes a great debt to Romero, but it also steals liberally from a slew of other titles. Aliens is another obvious touchstone – as are John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, Escape From L.A and even Ghosts Of Mars. Throw-in moments stolen from Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London and you’ll be left wanting to watch a list of better films when the end credits finally roll. There’s also yet another (obvious) Snyder nod to John Boorman’s Excalibur – a film which Snyder has been referencing for so long, he should just get another online fan petition going in so that Warner Bros. will let him remake it.
Snyder doesn’t seem to have a grip on tone with the film. There’s comedy, drama and musical montages galore – but none of it fits together. He attempts to add a few new ideas to the mix (pregnant zombies, zombie lions) but they come across as ‘wouldn’t it be cool, if…’ moments rather than real plot points. Say what you want about Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Justice League, but at least those films were consistent in tone.
Snyder’s film isn’t a total wash-out. The performances are rather good. Bautista brings his usual gruff intensity to the film and Nora Arnezeder is great as a kick-ass smuggler who knows the way into the fallen city. Matthias Schweighöfer and Omari Hardwick make for a fun double team and Ana de la Reguera is excellent as Bautista’s friend and ultimate conscience.
Army Of The Dead is a strangely pedestrian affair considering that Zack Snyder was given $70 million and carte blanche to make it. It’s ultimately just another zombie movie with little originality and and an exorbitant running-time to pad things out. It will likely have its fans, but it’s difficult to recommend. What happened on Vegas should have stayed there!