Army Of The Dead director Zack Snyder is probably best known for his comic book movie adaptations like 300, Watchmen, Man Of Steel and Justice League. Way before all of that, many might not remember that his very first movie (and directorial debut) was 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead remake.
After almost two decades, Snyder has returned to the genre that his career originally began with; zombies. Is it a wake-up call for other zombie films, or a made-for-TV show dead on arrival? Let’s find out!
Viva Las Vegas
This time around, it’s not just a remake. Army Of The Dead is an original movie by Zack Snyder, and it’s best described as a zombie heist movie. In fact, a prequel movie and spinoff animated series are already in the works, as it looks like Netflix is trying to turn all this into a franchise even before the first movie is out. That’s not always a good sign, but in this case, that might be for the best.
First, let me say this; Army Of The Dead is not a meta horror-comedy like most zombie movies tend to be these days. Even since Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland, a lot of directors have decided to go with the same tone and style; these movies don’t take themselves seriously. On the other hand, Army Of The Dead isn’t exactly a full-on horror movie like the classic Romero movies either.
Army Of The Dead focuses more on balls-to-the-walls action, with snippets of quieter moments and interactions between the characters (mostly just between Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward and Ella Purnell’s Kate Ward). Their father-daughter relationship forms the emotional backbone of the movie. The rest of the cast are barely fleshed out or developed. Some plot elements, like the origin of the zombies, are not expanded upon or explained, which will likely be cleared up in the upcoming prequel movie and spinoff animated series.
There are bits of political commentary here and there, but nothing on the level of the classic Romero movies. The focus is clearly on the action. There’s more of a fun vibe throughout the movie, so it’s not grim or bleak as other traditional zombie movies. However, that’s not totally unexpected, considering that the trailers did give out a similar tone.
That said, the movie doesn’t really have much action early on. Army Of The Dead is about two hours and 30 minutes long, which is abnormally long for any zombie movie.
Still, the ‘heist’ part of the movie is the reason why it’s so long, as the movie takes its time to introduce the members of the heist. Everyone who’s ever seen a heist movie will be familiar with this part, as the main protagonist assembles his/her/their gang to get the job done.
In Army Of The Dead, that aforementioned introduction and assembling part takes up more than 30 minutes of the entire movie, and it wouldn’t be until almost one hour into the movie before the gang is completely assembled and finally ready to begin the task for which they were recruited for. The pacing doesn’t feel too slow or draggy, but some viewers might find that the movie takes too long to start delving into the action and the actual ‘heist’.
Just like any heist movie, Army Of The Dead boasts a massive ensemble cast. Besides Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward and Ella Purnell’s Kate Ward, the highlight of the movie is Matthias Schweighöfer as the eccentric German safecracker Ludwig Dieter and Omari Hardwick as the stoic and serious Vanderohe. Their unlikely but quirky relationship and interactions make for the best and more humorous parts of the movie.
Without spoiling anything, all I can say is that I totally understand why the prequel movie will focus on Schweighöfer’s Dieter as the main protagonist. The rest of the cast is mostly just there, as is usually expected in a big heist movie like this.
Who Watches The Zombies?
I loved Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and one of the biggest reasons for that is the now-iconic opening sequence of the movie; the one featuring the Minutemen and Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ playing in the background.
In Army Of The Dead, Snyder repeats the same technique. Army Of The Dead opens with a montage depicting the chaotic early moments of the outbreak in Las Vegas with a cover of Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas playing through the sequence. It doesn’t make as much of an impression as the one in Watchmen but it’s still a nice sequence nonetheless.
Oh, and if you’re a horror buff, maybe you’ll be happy to learn that Army Of The Dead revels in its R-rated-ness. It’s gory and bloody as hell, with bits of nudity as well. Expects buckets of blood and violent death scenes (it is a zombie movie after all). That said, the movie could have been improved by including more practical effects instead of relying on CGI.
The zombies are more than just mindless hordes in Army Of The Dead. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the zombies in this universe (is it too early to call it that?) have a certain hierarchy and even a society of sorts; so they have a measure of intelligence. To clarify, that’s not a spoiler because Snyder himself has already revealed in previous interviews that Army Of The Dead will feature “alpha” zombies. He actually does say a bit more about the zombies in his new movie, but I’ll leave it to you to head on over here if you wish to know more.
Oh, and the zombie tiger (as seen in one of the movie’s trailers) is awesome, though I wish there was more of the undead animal in the movie.
Action, Action And More Action
Ultimately, Army Of The Dead is exactly how Zack Snyder described it in an interview: “It is a full-blown, balls-to-the-wall zombie heist movie, so it’s genre-on-genre in a great way. So you expect pure zombie mayhem, and you get that, 100 percent.”
Don’t expect full-on horror or smart social commentary/humour. You won’t find much of any of that. If you’re looking for a stylish and gory R-rated zombie movie with loads of action, then Army Of The Dead is for you.
FINAL SCORE: 70/100
We received an early access screener of Army Of The Dead courtesy of Netflix Malaysia. It is slated to premiere exclusively on Netflix on 21 May 2021.