Zombies in Las Vegas?!? An undead tiger?? A bank heist attempting to outpace a nuclear missile strike? A depth of field so shallow, it makes you reconsider your vision prescription? Who would make such a thing?
Zack Snyder, that’s who.
A military convoy transports a creature from Area 51 and is derailed when nearing Las Vegas. The humanoid (later referred to as an Alpha) gets loose, biting those around him to create an army of zombies that let loose on Sin City. Once the dust settles, Las Vegas is quarantined with a ring of shipping containers and surrounded by refugee camps. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) assembles a team of mercenaries to sneak in and perform a casino vault heist before the city is nuked.
It’s a big year for the man who finally got his own infamous Justice League cut on HBO Max. Now, he attempts to roll a hard six with his new film, Army of the Dead. The project had lingered in development hell for over a decade, then persevering through a pandemic and extensive reshoots to finally be released May 14, 2021, on Netflix. The streaming giant is not shy about being in a committed relationship either. They’re investing in a prequel and animated series related that tie into AofD.
With so much publicity surrounding this film, I wanted to share my thoughts (albeit, weeks overdue) as this is one a director that constantly frustrates me. BUT I CAN’T EVER LOOK AWAY!
To start, this film is unrelated to any of Romero’s “of the Dead” films. The social commentary prevalent that series is missing. It’s not even tied into Zack’s debut feature film, the remade Dawn of the Dead. No, to find the influences at play in this new film, it would be more appropriate to view Ocean’s Eleven, Aliens, and Escape From New York. It’s an Action/Horror movie, one that veers dangerously close to being a copy of those films, rather than an homage.
If you’ve seen even just a few of Zack’s previous films, you know what to expect from his style. He’s a visual storyteller, one that relies on several trademarks that have changed very little in his nearly-twenty year career. I’ll list just a couple below…
Opening Montage with Popular Song – Check! In fact, the story told through this montage seemed more exciting than the remainder of the film.
Speed Ramping – Check! While not Justice League levels of slow-mo, you could probably save a good half hour of this 2.5 hr film if you cut it out.
Particles – Check! This film is sandy. And, when it’s not sandy, it’s dusty. Like so many of his previous films, you can see what these characters or feeling and breathing in.
The visuals are there, and they are a reason to watch. I can’t be so glowing of the other elements that make up this film. For one, I can’t make heads or tails of the writing. The “bank heist during a zombie outbreak” concept makes for fun speculation but this needed some heavy editing. Plot inconsistencies, confusing motivations, cheesy dialogue, and “gotcha” moments for no reason.
Casting was serviceable. I know these are all bad people for the most part, but I would’ve preferred to feel more sympathy for these scoundrels. Although, let’s take a moment to address my favourite element of this film – Tig Nataro. The comedian was brought in to replace an actor who was wiped from the film as a result of sexual harassments claims. Without ever being in the same room with her fellow actors, or any other acting space that wasn’t green screen, I couldn’t believe how charismatic and mesmerizing she was as the group’s helicopter pilot.
Maybe it’s the whole pandemic thing that we live so regularly now, or the fact that I’m a father, but I found myself having a tougher time sitting through this one. There was also just a nastiness at play here that felt unwarranted. Case in point, one particular tiger mauling goes on longer than The Revenant’s infamous bear scene. At least in that example, Leo overcomes those odds!
This movie just doesn’t live up to the potential that exists in such a strong concept. If this is truly just the start of a new Dead cinematic universe then I’ll be watching along, but I’m hoping what comes next feels more refined. More originality and less reliance on tropes. Even the tease of time loops and robots alone will have me viewing what comes next, but somewhat cynically.
Keep turning the page,