Army of the Dead – REVIEW

2021 really seems to be an eventful year for Zack Snyder. The polarizing, visual-heavy director kicked off the year with the release of his fabled “Snyder Cut” of the Justice League film. You can read my thoughts on it here, but to summarize, I found this version to be superior than the original, with a most consistent tone and visual style. Despite these improvements, the film is still bogged down by an over abundance of unnecessary special effects, an underwhelming script, and a bloated run time. I wasn’t a huge fan of Snyder’s style going into that film and I most certainly was not won over by the end, but I was still able to appreciate the movie for what it did when you consider the long withstanding outcry from the public to let Snyder execute his original vision. With a new Netflix deal adding fuel to his creative steam train, Snyder has once again graced us with another action film, Army of the Dead.

This isn’t Snyder’s first foray into the zombie genre. 2004 saw the release of his remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a film considered by many to be a defining pillar for zombie movies. While Snyder’s version lacks much of the charm and humor the original is known for, he at least brought his A-game in the departments of intensity and terror. While I prefer the original, I can at least say that this is one of Snyder’s better films, laying the groundwork for what we could expect from the director farther down the road. Nearly 17 years later, Snyder has once again returned to the now oversaturated zombie market, promising to go bigger and crazier than ever before.

Now, if only he could’ve kept that promise.

For the most part, Army of the Dead is a headache to watch. It’s drab, overly-serious and stricken with a terrible script. I can’t say I was exactly shocked, as these are the director’s calling cards. However, the film’s advertising and even it’s opening credits seemed to promise a plethora of dumb, zombie fighting fun. The only problem is I spent most of the movie wondering when it was going to shift from “dumb” to “fun”, coming out disappointed that no such shift occurred in it’s nearly 2 and a half hour runtime.

After a zombie breaks lose from an Area 51 convoy in the middle of the Nevada dessert (thanks to a couple of horny idiots), the entire Las Vegas strip is quickly infected and overrun by the undead hordes. The city is blocked off from the public, leaving thousands of residents misplaced and turning the once vibrant vacation destination into a wasteland inhabited by the evolving undead. A wealthy casino owner hires a ragtag group of muscle heads to sneak into the city and retrieve millions of dollars in unaccounted-for cash, promising to split a fat chunk of change with them if they survive. Driven by their own desires and goals, the team infiltrates the city in search of the vault, but comes to find the zombies dwelling in the strip aren’t your typically walkers. They’re fast, organized and intelligent enough to ride undead horses, but the teams own mistrust for one another may inevitably be their downfall.

There’s a lot of characters to juggle here, from Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) the grizzled veteran with a past full of loss, Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) a philosophical soldier, and Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) a German safecracker who’s about to pop his zombie-killing cherry. While Snyder does his best to make these characters stand out from one another, they still remain flat, dimensionless vessels for the script, with many of their character traits feeling all too similar. Everyone does exactly what you expect them to do, and rarely is it ever entertaining. The relationships and banter between the team are the cornerstones for films like this, yet this is where the movie continually falls flat. No fault to the actors themselves really, as they aren’t given much to work with as far as the script goes. So-bad-its-bad dialogue and overtly philosophical monologues can’t help but hold the film back from being the rowdy good time this film was suppose to be. Occasionally the humor lands, but its stay is short. Like clockwork with any mishandled horror film, the script also forces its characters to make braindead decisions for the sake of the plot, whether it be contradicting a character’s intentions seconds after stating it or needlessly sacrificing their lives when it wasn’t really called for. I found the story’s connections to our current global health crisis interesting, but the film quickly ditches these ideas in favor of mindless action. It’s pretty common for Snyder’s films to get lost between trying to be straightforward or thought provoking, and it’s never been more apparent than it is here.

Dave Bautista as Scott Ward

I mentioned the film was a headache to watch most of the time, and the absolute biggest cause of this is the cinematography. Acting as both director and director of photography this time around, Snyder’s shooting is hazy, poorly lit and constantly out of focus. I tried to count the amount of blurry shots I came across but gave up almost half an hour in because there were too many to count. I have no clue why he chose to frame so many of these scenes with impaired visibility on our subjects, but it remained annoyingly consistent throughout the entire film. One of Snyder’s most controversial traits is his color pallets, and never have they been more bland and uninspired here. Choosing to set your film in such a vibrant and colorful location as Las Vegas only to strip away its identity and awe is baffling to me. I know this was most likely done as a juxtaposition, but it doesn’t make it any more interesting. Snyder goes a bit more wild with his needle dropping than he has in the past here to varying degrees of success. Sometimes the song absolutely fits, other times it’s laughably shoehorned. It’s not exactly as egregious as say Suicide Squad, but it comes close at times. I want you to guess what song the movie ends on. Really think about the songs released in the last 30 years that could pertain to this film. If your answer is immediately followed by the thought “there’s no way”, then you’ve probably made the right choice.

There’s a few things to like amidst all the missteps here, though they aren’t enough to completely save the film. Snyder’s take on the smarter-than-usual zombies isn’t entirely original, but it still shows glimpses of promise. Choosing to turn the undead into a pack of creatures with emotions, hierarchies, traditions and deliberate wardrobe choices was a fresh decision to make these monsters really stand out. Despite this, the film is still filled with your run-of-the-mill mindless shamblers that can be found in nearly every zombie media property. Hell, there’s even a freaking zombie tiger that gets absolutely sidelined for most of the film. It eventually has a pretty satisfying fight with one backstabbing survivor, but its teases never truly live up to this. One thing I felt fairly satisfied with is the violence and gore on display. While the choreography in the fight scenes isn’t always the best, I can at least rest assured that the blood and guts effects were satisfying and disgusting to see. I actually got genuinely surprised by one act of violence that managed to pull my interest back in. I only wish the film didn’t have to try to pull me back.

The entire time I was watching I couldn’t help but think of the video game Dead Rising 2. Like the film, the game is set in a zombie infested Las Vegas-like city, but the game revels in the atmosphere of the adult playground. Loaded with neon visuals and somehow juggling a serious story with silly slapstick action, I couldn’t help but wish I was just playing the game instead of watching this film. It feels like a huge ball was dropped here, as Snyder’s signature visual style here has never felt so weak. I know I went into this film not expecting much, yet I can’t help but feel disappointed in the final product. We know this kind of set up can work, but in a world where every man, woman and child has seen a lifetime’s worth of zombie media, it at least needs to be fun. The movie’s Zombieland-like opening credits shows that Snyder knows how to have fun, but it looks like we’ll need to wait for that Dead Rising movie before zombies can start being fun again.

Rating

(out of a possible 5 Las Vegas signs)

Fast Zombie

The Zombie is one of the most famous tiki cocktails around, created in 1934 by legendary cocktail concocter Donn Beach. The recipe varies depending on where you look, but it usually consists of a ton of rum and tropical fruit juices (and occasionally set on fire). The ingredients can get very specific, but in the event you don’t have access to all of the classic requirements, I have devised a variation of the drink called the Fast Zombie. Named after the term used for the undead with a bit more pep in their step, this drink is simple and quick to make but still recreates the essence of what the drink exemplifies. It’s heavy alcohol content is hidden beneath its sweet, fruity body, making it the perfect drink to get you through any underwhelming zombie flick.

Ingredients

  • 1.5oz dark rum
  • 1.5oz white rum
  • 3/4oz lime juice
  • 3oz pineapple juice
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Splash of grenadine
  • Garnish: Mint leaves
  • Garnish: Cherry

Instructions

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
  2. Strain into a tall glass with ice.
  3. Garnish with mint and cherry.

Video

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