Dave Bautista - Scott Ward
Ella Purnell - Kate Ward
Omari Hardwick - Vanderohe
Ana de la Reguera - Maria Cruz
Tig Notoro - Marianne Peters
Theo Rossi - Burt Cummings
Matthias Schweighofer - Ludwig Dieter
Nora Arnezeder - Lily
Hiroyuki Sanada - Bly Tanaka
Raul Castillo - Mikey Guzman
Garret Dillahunt - Martin
Richard Cetrone - Zeus
Athena Perample - The Queen
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble: venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.
ARMY OF THE DEAD, one of 2021’s most anticipated films, had a lot of things going for it while it’s release was hyped. The main one was director Zack Snyder, who many felt was disrespected by Warner Bros. over his JUSTICE LEAGUE build and how it all turned out. With personal reasons and Joss Whedon causing a media controversy over the handling of the project, many supported Snyder and wanted to see his version of the film. Over many months of questioning whether The Snyder Cut even existed, Snyder himself confirmed it and released his 4-hour version of JUSTICE LEAGUE in March 2021 on HBO Max. It was a drastic improvement over the theatrical version, making many who disliked Snyder over his recent films turn around on their opinion as they rooted for the guy when it came to future projects.
One of those projects ended up being ARMY OF THE DEAD - a sort of return to roots for Snyder since his first big success was 2004’s remake of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Starring Dave Bautista and getting an exclusive deal from Netflix to stream to millions of homes, there was a lot of goodwill when it came to the film’s release. Unfortunately, the praise for JUSTICE LEAGUE didn’t extend to ARMY OF THE DEAD. While some did enjoy the film, a majority have been in the middle or just have a dislike for the film. Personally, I’m on the fence when it comes to this movie, as it has some really cool things going for it. But I do have major issues with the film as well, mainly when it comes to Zack Snyder himself.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The premise for ARMY OF THE DEAD is pretty great. Mixing a zombie movie with a heist film is a cool combination and actually creates some genuinely tense moments in the final half of the film. Characters have a purpose in confronting these zombies, considering they’ll earn millions of dollars if they’re successful with the heist. And there’s obvious drama due to outside forces hoping to make sure the heist doesn’t happen as it was planned. This kind of plot might make for a better video game than a movie, but I liked that Snyder wanted to freshen things up within the genre considering a ton of zombie films just want to rehash the popularity of The Walking Dead.
I also appreciated this story element involving these Alpha Zombies. Apparently, these are members of the undead that have survived long enough to evolve into intelligent creatures who have super strength and agility to fend off foes. There’s even an Alpha Tiger guarding their territory. The Alphas also created their own kingdom, even crowning a King and Queen to lead them. While I wish the film had done more to explain how they came to be and done more to make them a bigger deal until the final act, I really liked this new lore. I think these characters are receiving their own film or special later in the year, so I’m looking forward to learning more about their story.
I thought some of the shots were nice and/or interesting, while the action and gore aspects were done well. ARMY OF THE DEAD has a lot of violence going on, including gun fights, zombie biting, explosions, objects impaling various body parts and even decapitations. And the zombie make up looked really cool, similar to the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. I liked that some of the zombies looked different from others, including the return of a zombie fetus, as well as a zombie cyborg which I wanted to see more of. There was obvious thought put into the creatures, which I appreciated.
And I didn’t hate the acting either. Dave Bautista continues his winning streak in a lead role, using his charisma and easy presence to remain a captivating wrestler-turned-actor to watch. I thought Omari Hardwick was a bad ass as the enforcer of the group, while Matthias Schweighofer was more hit than miss as the comic relief safe cracker. Even Theo Rossi and Garret Dillahunt were very good as the love-to-hate characters who had their own cruel agendas. And I thought Snyder did a seamless job replacing Chris D’Elia [who was fired over sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro. The fact that none of the actors really interacted with Notoro since her parts were added after the fact is pretty amazing. I find it more interesting than the film itself and Snyder and Notoro should be commended for doing a great job when it came to that. Overall, I think there may have been too many actors and characters in this film that weren’t zombies, but the actors were fine in their respective roles.
The main issue with ARMY OF THE DEAD really stems from the screenplay. Personally, I found the film to have too much going on for its own good, making the movie feel like three different films in one for no real reason. We have the character drama, especially between Scott and Kate Ward’s father-daughter feud. We have the heist subplot that ends up being really predictable if you’ve seen ALIENS, which a lot of the narrative was based on. In fact, this took away a lot of tension from the film. We also have the Alpha Zombies stuff that needs to be explored more. It felt like Snyder crammed a trilogy in a 148 minute film when you could have honestly spread this out and done three cool films that all felt different from the other. The first film could have been the start of the zombie apocalypse itself, which would have helped build characters and defined their relationships. The second could have been the heist and Alpha Zombie deal. And the third could have been the aftermath, which ARMY OF THE DEAD seems to set up with its final reveal. This would have helped the pacing. This would have helped the story. This would have helped the budget, as less to focus on would have made the movie look way better than it does.
For example, Kate Ward is a really annoying character and seems to be inserted in the heist plot line for unnecessary drama that could have been saved for something else. She hates her father, but uses him anyway to get what she wants. She doesn’t mind risking lives of others to save a trio of women who abandoned their children to escape the quarantine area for a “better life”. And when she goes rogue to save these women during a heist that has to be done in 90 minutes because a bomb is going to drop in the area, she gets people killed for her selfishness. All she does is play the moral police, when her morals don’t matter during a zombie apocalypse.
There’s also the Martin character, who is appointed by Bly Tanaka [the man ordering this Vegas heist] to join the team as a liaison inside the area to make it easier to find the safe with the millions of dollars. A character hired by a suspicious rich person to join a group of soldiers to lead them to success - what can go wrong?? Not only is he predictable as a foil, but there’s really no tension or suspense when it comes to reveal as he quickly reveals himself to certain team members to create drama. His plan is also pretty dumb because Martin has his own specific orders that don’t involve the rest of the team, not realizing that he doesn’t have a way to get back to safety once he accomplishes it away from the others. So what’s the point of all this? I didn’t mind the character all that much, but his motivations were pretty weak and lacking in terms of advance planning.
In fact, a lot of the characters don’t have much motivation besides getting money from this heist. Relationships are briefly established but nothing is really done to make the audience care. I had no idea Scott and Maria were an item until she vents about it near the end of the film. I just figured they had a platonic relationship, but the film proved me wrong. Kate’s loyalty to finding Geeta is empty because nothing in the film suggests that they’re best friends, lovers, or anything substantial that would make Kate risk her life and the lives of others to find this woman. Maybe she was triggered by abandoned children [due to her feelings of abandonment by Scott], but that feels like a real stretch to deal with zombies over. I thought the Alpha King and Queen had a more fleshed out relationship and all they did was growl at each other. And I thought Vanderohe and Ludwig Dieter had one of the better relationships, as it organically grew from two people who didn’t care for the other into a respectful friendship between two men who used their respective brawn and brains to try to survive this heist. It makes what happens in the final act mean a bit more. The film could have used more of that, instead of just having characters bicker at each other while just walking around a casino for minutes on end.
I also had issues with the look of the film. For a movie that costs about $90 million, it looks pretty cheap. It was like looking at actors doing their thing in front of a green screen and not in the good Robert Rodriguez sort of way. It wasn’t until after the fact that I learned Zack Snyder himself was both the director and cinematographer of ARMY OF THE DEAD, which probably explains a lot about the film’s visuals. While some shots looked cool and the action was filmed well, it seems like Snyder had too much on his plate with this one. He probably should have let someone else take over the cinematography to make this film look a little better. I’ve seen worse looking films obviously, but this is probably near the bottom in terms of Synder’s films on a visual level.
THE FINAL HOWL
Despite being hyped up for this one after enjoying his version of JUSTICE LEAGUE months prior, I ended up feeling disappointed by Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD - a film that has a lot going on and nothing going on all at once. While having a great heist premise and some cool story elements like the idea of Alpha Zombies ruling a territory, the rest of the narrative seems rushed. The film doesn’t allow much character development beyond the archetypes, as a lot of the plot elements could have been spread into two or three films rather than crammed into a 2.5 hour movie. And while some of Snyder’s shots are cool and interesting, the overall look of the film looks cheaper than would be believed considering the movie’s $90 million budget. However, the zombies look and act cool. The gore and action are definitely highlights and will keep audiences somewhat invested. And I had no real issues with the acting, carried quite well by a game Dave Bautista. And that great use of CGI in replacing Chris D’Elia [due to sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro was pretty seamless, as I didn’t even notice it until after the fact. Zack Snyder fans and probably most zombie fans will get a kick out of ARMY OF THE DEAD probably for the majority of the visuals alone. But if you’re looking for a story with likable characters and George A. Romero social commentary to elevate a standard zombie action flick, these two-plus hours might not be worth investing in unless you have a lot of time to fill.
2 Howls Outta 4