Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.
We need to talk about Zack Snyder. He seems like he’s a pretty decent guy. For instance, when Chris D’Elia was accused of sexual predatory behavior, he was removed from Army of the Dead and digitally replaced with Tig Notaro. First, Tig Notaro should replace a lot of people in things. Second, despite the fact that this move cost the production company millions, it was important in the post-#MeToo era to remove predators from whatever we can.
But here’s the thing: Zack Snyder isn’t really that good of a filmmaker. He wants to be, and he has some interesting ideas, but he just doesn’t have the skill to really pull off those ideas in a credible way. Snyder always comes across like he’s making his first movie and he’s a little too young to really know what he’s doing. A lot of his ideas come across as better as ideas, or better handled by a more experienced filmmaker. That’s very much the case with Army of the Dead.
There are a lot of great ideas in Army of the Dead. We open with a military convoy having a head-on collision with a newlywed couple while transporting a proto-zombie on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The zombie gets out and soon enough, Las Vegas is awash in zombies, barricaded, and completely overrun. Outside of the city are refugee camps and inside the city are just zombies. Some people stranded in the camps pay coyotes to go inside the city to attempt to break open slot machines to make enough money to get out of the camps, and sometimes they don’t come out.
Keeping up with the theme of fun ideas from a director who isn’t quite an adult, the American government has decided to nuke Las Vegas to eliminate the zombie threat a full six years after the incient. A few days before the nuking, casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) contacts former Vegas resident Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to pull a job inside Vegas. Essentially, he wants Ward to get in with a team, crack open the vault of his casino, and come out with $200 million. The reward is $50 million to split with his team. Ward decides to bring his former team members Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and Maria (Ana de la Reguera) with the promise of $15 million each. They hire a safe cracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), and a helicopter pilot named Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro). TikTok zombie killer Guzman (Raul Castillo) and his associate Chambers (Samantha Win) round out the crew, with Martin (Garret Dillahunt) being sent in by Tanaka to monitor the team.
Meanwhile, we learn that Kate Ward (Ella Purnell), Scott’s estranged daughter, is working at the camps. Her friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi) has disappeared inside Vegas thanks to a coyote named Lilly (Nora Arnezeder). Kate feels responsible, so she gets Lilly to lead the team and goes in with them to find Geeta. Last, Lilly insists they bring in abusive camp guard Cummings (Theo Rossi) as an additional gun, and for a reason that will become evident later.
The rest of the film will be them getting into the city, discovering the reality of what goes on behind the walls, and trying to accomplish their mission while dealing with a variety of problems double crosses.
There are some great ideas in Army of the Dead. We learn that much of the city is controlled by zombies called Alphas that are direct descendants of the original zombie. These zombies are smarter, faster, and capable of tool use. In fact, they can be bartered with and can make deals. It’s a sort of rapid progression of what we got from the Romero films, where it took several movies to get to that point with the zombies. It’s fun and it makes the big firefights a lot more interesting. There’s also a zombie tiger that pops up a few times, and that’s pretty great.
But there are also ideas that are hinted at that never pay off. We learn that there are zombies called shamblers that are dried out, but come back to “life” when it rains. I waited the whole movie to see the shamblers come back to life and it never happens. And, while the zombie tiger (and the zombie horse) are cool, it brings up a real issue with the zombies. If the zombie plague can cross species, wouldn’t flies and other biting insects take the plague outside of the city quickly?
I was also disappointed in just how easy parts of this were to predict. I knew a lot of what was coming in terms of emotional beats and overall story moments. That’s disappointing.
And, well, that’s Zack Snyder. A lot of fun ideas inexpertly realized, and a lot of expectations ultimately disappointed. He's so excited to move on to the next cool thing that he doesn't finish the thing he's already on.
Why to watch Army of the Dead: An interesting new concept for a zombie film.
Why not to watch: Zack Snyder is better in theory than in practice.