Army of the Dead
Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead is about 30 minutes too long and 50 million dollars short of the perfect budget. Still, the talented visual director manages to stuff the film full of action and endless bouts with the undead that never seem to grow boring or stale in this heist hybrid/shoot-em-up action flick. I'd say Netflix hit jackpot with this one.
Director Zack Snyder has had a wild year for movies, with his long-awaited cut of Justice League debuting on HBO Max earlier this year and now his highly-anticipated return to the horror genre with Army of the Dead hitting Netflix just a couple months later. Army of the Dead is a progressive step in a new direction for Snyder, a filmmaker wrapped up in the DC world for the better half of the last decade. The film also highlights some of Zack’s pitfalls as a director that has an imagination that is much bigger than his execution, with the film looking and feeling cheaper than his usual productions, not to mention a script that skips its characters and central ideas to focus on the blood and gore on display. The way I see it, Snyder’s Army of the Dead is a spin of the roulette wheel, with half the film hitting its mark as an exciting slice of genre movie-making and the rest just sort of reminding you that even Snyder can have an off shoot.
Army of the Dead follows Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) as he attempts to lead a team of mercenaries back into an infected Las Vegas to to recover some cash for Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) before the US government decides to nuke the city in hopes of wiping the undead population off the face of the Earth. Scott is promised 50 million dollars, in which he can divide up among his team however he sees fit.
When I heard that Zack Snyder was finally making his long-awaited Army of the Dead for Netflix I honestly couldn’t hold in the excitement. Most know Zack for his ambitious comic book adaptations, such as Watchmen, 300, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and of course Zack Snyder’s Justice League. But Zack actually broke out onto the big screen with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, which might be one of my all-time favorite horror flicks.
Knowing that Snyder was returning to the horror genre and given creative freedom from Netflix meant that we might finally be able to see what a zombie flick looks like with Zack’s modern day storytelling techniques, which usually includes stylized action, slow-motion ramp-up shots and each and every frame looking like a million bucks.
But then the trailer hit and I was confused by how ugly and stripped down the flick looked, not to mention insanely cheap. But Zack also shot this one rather quickly and collected a team of bad asses in short time, not to mention finished up his cut of Justice League along the way.
That being said, Army of the Dead is still a blast of gory fun from a filmmaker that hasn’t had the chance to really let loose and go wild for quite some time. The kills in this movie are off-the-charts, highlighting about a dozen ways to dismember your fellow human either with a gun, an undead tiger or some booby traps inside of a vault.
Watching Snyder make a zombie heist flick with Dave Bautista is something that I’ve always wanted and something that I am still mostly glad has happened. Snyder’s visual eye doesn’t go to complete waste as he stacks on the body count and gives us more than one epic showdown with an army of zombies.
But the film struggles in areas that Snyder is no stranger to. For starters, the writing leaves plenty to be desired as most of Zack’s characters are operating off of basic motive that isn’t really explored or explained outside of an awesome opening credits sequence. Not a whole lot changes from start to finish, aside from Bautista’s relationship with his daughter, which starts out complicated and kind of ends on messy terms.
You don’t really care too much about any of the characters, which makes certain deaths come across as deflated and overdone. Zack seems to work better when he’s either not writing his films or working with writers that better understand how to utilize his talents as a visual maestro in a way that pays off the characters and the larger story at hand.
Snyder also works better with hundreds of millions of dollars, which I’m willing to bet most directors would too, but at least with Zack, you know the money isn’t going to waste. Army of the Dead looks and feels very cheap, from the CGI to the overly-murky and hazy camerawork that is almost always distracting when he chooses to use lots of close-up focus and blurred backgrounds. I realized Snyder was the DP on the film too and maybe that should’ve been left to more capable hands?
Army of the Dead is also nearly 2.5 hours, despite only needing to be 90 minutes to maybe two hours tops. Anything else adds unneeded bloat and kills the film’s smash-mouth third act that mostly works wonders. The set pieces are fun and the action is exciting, but then the film slows down and loses all momentum.
There’s also a weird back-and-forth between using smart zombies and for lack of a better word, dumb zombies. Parts of the film feel like exploring said zombies, while other parts just use them as your normal zombies, only they can dodge bullets and wear capes. I’m not sure why so much time was spent on this stuff as it all added up to be not relevant in the slightest.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a ton of fun with Zack Snyder‘s Army of the Dead. The film has its fair share of problems and you’d almost expect more from the guy coming hot off one of the best comic book movie adaptions of all-time. Yet it still works and I think that’s because Bautista is an interesting actor with bonafide star power that leads the film effortlessly and Snyder has an eye for death and destruction like no other.
Army of the Dead could’ve completely changed the game, much like Dawn of the Dead, but instead, it settles for being an entertaining, but bloated slice of zombie fun, complete with slot machines, chainsaws and buckets of gore. Chances are high you’ll find something to enjoy from Zack Snyder‘s latest and not so greatest.