Army of the Dead takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a displaced Vegas local, former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: Break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours.
Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. They include Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), an ace mechanic and Ward’s old friend; Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a zombie killing machine; Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a cynical helicopter pilot; Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a go-for-broke influencer and Chambers (Samantha Win), his ride-or-die; Martin (Garret Dillahunt), the casino’s head of security; a badass warrior known as the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) who recruits Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi), a slimy security guard; and a brilliant German safecracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer).
Scott finds an unexpected emotional hurdle when Kate joins the expedition to search for Geeta (Huma S. Qureshi), a mother who’s gone missing inside the city. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.
Do you remember the time years ago when the mention of filmmaker Zack Snyder was met with a ton of divisiveness? His style of filmmaking definitely isn’t for everybody, and some people online have made that very clear. Watchmen is probably one of the most out-there and weird superhero movies of all time and it really was the film that solidified Snyder as a bold and audacious filmmaker, after the successes of both Dawn of the Dead and 300.
Of course, after making a wide array of films, any director eventually finds a style that suits them and with Snyder, it’s no different. All of his films feel very grand and large-scale, and they often deal with heavy themes that you don’t often expect to see, especially in some of his superhero outings.
He started directing movies in the extremely controversial DC Extended Universe back in 2013 with Man of Steel, which actually proved to be a fairly beloved superhero flick that kicked off the DCEU. But from that point onward, the cinematic universe in question became a hot topic for many moviegoers and critics all around the world.
I will admit – I was excited for a movie where Batman fights Superman ever since I was about six or seven years old. I’ve been a fan of superheroes and comics and video games ever since I was a young kid, so even just the idea of the two most powerful and iconic superheroes in comic history fighting each other was something I salivated at.
And so of course, when it was announced that Zack Snyder would be directing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was so excited that I literally counted down the days until I got to see the film in theatres, which is something I never do. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to watch every movie I see, but rarely do I ever anticipate movies so heavily that I begin to count down the days until I get to see them.
After leaving the theatre, I was heavily impressed with the film but as time went on I was forced to wonder why so many people hated the film. Yes, the two titular heroes only technically fought each other for about ten minutes in a two-and-a-half-hour movie which was disappointing, but the rest of the movie before was so good and thought-provoking to the point where I was shocked at the negative response it got.
And I won’t even get deep into the new Zack Snyder’s Justice League film because the story behind that project is so long that to talk about it in its full detail would take up about five paragraphs here. But long story short – fans hated the original 2017 Joss Whedon-directed outing so they asked Warner Bros. to release the Snyder Cut (which everybody knew existed), and while for a bit it seemed like they wouldn’t budge, just a few months ago, we finally got treated to the film and boy was it ever glorious.
Now, here we are a few months after Snyder’s new Justice League, and he has a brand new film out called Army of the Dead, and it’s an absolute behemoth of a movie and one of the best and most entertaining of his entire career.
If you go into Army of the Dead expecting a potential Best Picture nominee, then you are going to be let down and then some. This movie never once even tries to be an Oscar film and I’m so glad that it didn’t because it never needed to be. Just the idea of Snyder directing a brand new zombie flick was an amazing thing to get excited about, and Army of the Dead is certainly Snyder in all his glory.
Right from the opening scene which is a hilarious and brutal montage sequence of a bunch of people slaughtering zombies through the streets of Las Vegas set to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas” sung by comedian singer Richard Cheese, I knew that this was going to be an absolute blast, and it certainly was.
There’s really never a scene in the film that’s not entertaining at least in some capacity. All of the zombie kills that you’re looking forward to are executed in amazing ways and some of the deaths in this film are so brutal and bloody that it would make the Jigsaw killer from the Saw franchise jealous.
Now I don’t know if maybe it’s because I am just so used to Snyder directing extremely long movies, but Army of the Dead‘s two-and-a-half-hour running time did not bother me in the slightest. In fact, by the time the credits rolled on screen, I actually wanted to see more. Who knows? Perhaps if this film performs wildly well on streaming and in theatres, a sequel will be following suit but even if we never get a sequel, we can just be happy at the fact that we got this movie in the first place.
All of the performances are a ton of fun to watch as well. Dave Bautista is an absolute powerhouse and has never been more badass than he is here in the role of Scott Ward. Some other standouts here as well that get a ton of brutal kills are Ella Purnell as Kate Ward, Omari Hardwick as Vanderohe, and Ana de la Reguera as Maria Cruz.
But really, the heart and soul of this movie lies within the characters of Scott and Kate Ward. They were honestly the only two characters that I genuinely cared for. At the beginning of the movie, we are shown a scene in which Scott’s wife is bitten by a zombie, and as a result, he is forced to shoot her and put her out of her own misery, all while Kate, their daughter, watches.
Understandably so, Kate was extremely shaken up by this and is, as a result, angry at her father. But she is even angrier at him due to him not ever checking up on her after this incident. He kind of just let her do her own thing and never tried to get in contact with her.
Years later, he realizes that he made a big mistake and feels incredibly guilty for all the hard times he caused his daughter since that day, and when they meet again, he makes it clear that he wants to reconnect with her and be a good father for her again. She’s not against the idea, but she makes it clear to him that she isn’t quite ready to forgive him yet. She says that he can’t just expect him to come marching back into her life with a big smile on his face and act like nothing ever happened.
And so getting to watch their relationship evolve over the course of Army of the Dead was a beautiful thing to watch. Their dynamic in the film was extremely touching to watch. It’s just a shame that the other characters don’t really get a whole lot to do. They honestly feel like one-note characters that have quirks and that’s it.
One of the worst offenses of this is the character of Ludwig Dieter, portrayed by Matthias Schweighöfer. While he is extremely funny and charismatic in his role, we really only learn two things about his character over the course of the movie – he has never killed a zombie before the start of the film, and he is a skilled safecracker.
The screenwriters here really dropped the ball when it came to developing the side characters because, by the time the movie came to a close, I didn’t feel like I really got to deeply know anybody besides Scott and Kate Ward.
Something that genuinely impressed me hugely about this film is that the director of photography was, surprise surprise, Zack Snyder. It takes a lot of talent and hard work to not only serve as the overall director of a film, but also the director of photography. And man is Snyder ever excellent at cinematography.
Practically every single scene in this film is expertly shot. From the brutally bleak and bloody streets of Las Vegas to the grimy interior of the abandoned and chilling hotels, Snyder ensures that every scene is brimming with imagery, no matter what. It’s easily one of the best-looking movies of the year and is also one of the best-looking movies of Snyder’s career.
Something else that I feel a lot of people are overlooking here is just how good the soundtrack is too. I already mentioned how amazing it was to hear the hilarious Richard Cheese sing “Viva Las Vegas” in the opening, but hearing “Zombie” by The Cranberries was so fitting and put a smile on my face as soon as I heard it. It’s just such a perfect song to include in such a beautifully chaotic movie.
Whatever Zack Snyder makes next in terms of his filmography is up in the air at the moment. Of course, millions of fans all around the world (myself included) really hope that he gets to finish his Justice League trilogy even though it seems like Warner Bros. are not too keen on that idea. Who knows if Snyder will ever make another superhero movie again?
It’s such a weird thing to even think about because Snyder is almost primarily known nowadays for directing large-scale superhero epics. Like I said earlier, he was the man responsible for making Batman v Superman and he also delivered an extremely satisfying and pulse-pounding four-hour cut of Justice League just a few months ago. He could pull a James Gunn and try to make a Marvel movie, but would Marvel want such a bold and divisive director behind one of their projects? It’s really anybody’s guess.
But even if we never see him helm one in the future, we can rest assured that whatever it is he decides to tackle next, it will definitely have style, chaos, and fun in store for audiences. Keep up the great work, Snyder. I can’t wait to see what you have planned up your sleeves next.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, gore, and language throughout, some sexual content, and brief nudity/graphic nudity
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: May 21, 2021
Running Time: 148 minutes