I first heard about Army of the Dead in late 2020. Though its plot was intriguing, since at the time I had a bias against Snyder’s work, I had zero interest in actually seeing it. This all changed when his superhero epic Zach Snyder’s Justice League came out and blew me away by how it was actually…good. This skyrocketed my excitement for Army of the Dead as I eagerly awaited seeing if Snyder would be able to hit it out of the park again. To be clear, I still don’t love Snyder’s directing “style,” but my respect for the man’s work has grown exponentially in the last two months. When I saw that Snyder’s new flick would be in theaters a week before it would hit Netflix, I couldn’t help myself and bought a ticket. With two doses of the vaccine flowing through my veins, I excitedly sat down to see what can only be described as a “zombie-heist” film.
Army of the Dead follows a group of mercenaries led by Dave Bautista, most well known as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, as they sneak into a zombie ravaged Las Vegas to steal 50 million dollars from a vault at the base of one of the hotels. It’s almost shocking how similar this movie is to the 1986 film Aliens. Of course both share groups of heavily weaponized fighters going to war with monsters, but the amount of moments ripped straight from the sci-fi classic is too many not to notice. On top of that, the film is filled with every trope and cliche you’ve seen in every zombie movie. A good guy being bitten and having to be killed by a loved one, a person turning their back on the heroes and leaving them to die, a character saving the team by letting themselves being covered by zombies, it’s all in here. That being said, cliches and similarities to other movies don’t make a film bad. Though these story elements can make Army of the Dead feel like a familiar experience while watching it, it’s still a good time, especially if you’re a fan of the zombie genre. There are a few twists on old ideas, the biggest one being the hierarchy the zombies have created within Las Vegas. Seeing how the zombies have created their own unique society is fun and interesting, even though it’s not given as much screen time as I wish it had been given.
Though Dave Bautista as Scott Ward is the official lead of the movie, Army of the Dead really has an ensemble cast. In classic Snyder style, each character is a bit one note with only one defining personality trait, but the actors make their characters work within the barriers of the story. There are three obvious standouts in the film, those being Matthias Schweighöfer, Omari Hardwick, and Tig Notaro. Schweighöfer is funny enough by himself as a German safecracker who is not used to the mercenary lifestyle, but his character is elevated when he’s paired with Hardwick’s philosophy-fueled veteran mercenary. Their relationship grows into my favorite one of the films as they grow closer as friends by understanding each other’s talents and flaws. The other standout is Notaro’s wisecracking and cynical helicopter pilot who brings much of the film’s best comedy. What’s especially amazing about Notaro was that she had to play her entire role on a greenscreen without the rest of the cast since she replaced Chris D’Elia after sexual assault allegations were made against him. Not only does she seamlessly fit into the movie, but the special effects to put her in are unnoticeable, becoming another technological feat for the books. The rest of the cast ranges from fine to awful, mostly being your basic action movie characters that could be replaced without change to the rest of the film. Sometimes this works in the story’s favor since many of the characters don’t make it to the end, but the touching moments of the film often fall flat due to how uninteresting the majority of the cast are. Still, the weaker characters of the cast don’t take down the film as a whole.
After walking out of the theater and climbing into my car, I stopped to think about what I had just seen. I knew I had enjoyed the movie, but I also was left feeling somewhat disappointed. Army of the Dead is filled with things to love. The image of a zombie king riding a zombie horse next to a zombie tiger leading a zombie army will never not make me smile, and characters pulling off an Ocean’s 11 style heist in an apocalyptic Las Vegas makes me giddy with just the thought. Multiple moments throughout this film had me grinning from ear to ear, but after it was all over, it felt like it had all gone by in a blur. It left no impact and nothing about it made me ever want to re-watch it. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, I think this is most likely due to Snyder’s direction. While Army of the Dead’s posters and trailers advertised a colorful and wild cinema experience, it’s really just a by the numbers action movie that has all the Snyder indulgences that I’m still not a big fan of. The film is drenched in unsaturated colors like brown, grey, and black, which makes the film look pretty ugly. Additionally, all the action is basic and unsatisfying, mostly being boring shootouts with occasional slow-mo. These scenes can be entertaining in the moment but end up just being noise. Multiple scenes are drowned in sorrowful renditions of classic songs meant to make things feel dramatic, but instead they often have the opposite effect. These are all staples of Snyder’s work and the stylistic choices that made me dislike his earlier films. I think Army of the Dead is far better than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s far from being a classic that I’ll remember in the coming years.
I don’t dislike Army of the Dead. In fact, I would say it’s worth your time if you’re looking for something fun to watch on the weekend. It’s entertaining for its entire runtime and will most certainly have you laughing and gasping during multiple scenes. Once it’s over, you’ll have watched a film that has made two and a half hours fly by, and you’ll look back fondly on the film’s best moments…but that’s it. It’s nothing special, and it’s unlikely to show up in many best films of the year lists. Army of the Dead is fun but basic, and that’s really the best way to sum up my thoughts. Army of the Dead comes out on Netflix this Friday, May 21, 2021.