Review: Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead is a new movie from Writer/Director Zack Snyder and is available to watch on Netflix from 21st May 2021.

PLOT AND STORY 

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. This synopsis in itself has the making of a great Zombie movie but this is a Zack Snyder story so expect a multitude of sub plots and twists along the way.

So first things first, this movie has no relation to Zack’s previous zombie movie Dawn of the Dead. Army of the Dead starts fresh with a new origin to the zombie outbreak and is self contained within 50 foot high walls inside sin city. I found the outbreak sequence to this movie to be one of the highlights of the whole movie. In typical Snyder fashion we are treated to a long, slow motion credit intro which is used to educate the audience on how the outbreak started, how bad it is and how it has been contained. 

Following the opening sequence the story begins to build and unfortunately for me I found this took too long to get going again. I understand in building a story and character development we need to understand people’s pains and motivations, which is certainly covered in this movie but I couldn’t help myself from getting a little bored and just waiting for more zombie action.

In terms of story structure I found this to be quite well executed. There is a beginning, a middle and a climactic ending, the core to any good action story. The most troubling part of the overall story is that the actual zombies serve no real purpose in the story other than being in the way. I went into this movie expecting a zombie movie but it’s actually a heist movie with zombies. There are some huge questions that get asked about the zombies which simply don’t get addressed and I found that slightly disappointing. Without spoiling the movie I will say that these are not your regular brain dead zombies, these are an evolved species with a level of consciousness but again this isn’t addressed in the movie enough. I found myself googling questions like ‘what are the zombies in Army of the Dead’ and ‘are the zombies actually robots in Army of the Dead’ only to find many other people asking the same question.

The main character Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is the only character who gets a fully fleshed out journey and it’s one I thoroughly enjoyed. We learn who he is, where he came from and having drifted apart from his family uses the heist as his opportunity at redemption. In a world of zombies I found his story and journey very honest and believable. Although the rest of the characters were essentially support cast I really didn’t mind. At 2.5 hours long I don’t feel like I needed to know more about them and let’s be honest, most characters in zombie movies are essentially cannon fodder. 

DAVE BAUTISTA as SCOTT WARD in ARMY OF THE DEAD

PRODUCTION AND DIRECTION 

Much to the disgust of many Snyder fans I have always said that Zack Snyder is a movie maker first and a story teller second. Where I find his screenplays are often over inflated and long winded I can never find fault with the production of any of his movies. Army of the Dead is no different and is a genuine feast for the eyes.

Snyder’s trademark wide angle, slow motion cinematic shots are plentiful in this movie and some of them are breathtaking. As people will have experienced in previous movies like Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman Snyder has the eye to pan in and out of action sequences like very few others. It’s these types of shots which make your heart pump faster and faster until its climax leaving you feeling like a drug addict coming off meth. 

An enclosed Las Vegas strip makes for quite an easy setting for the movie without any need for exotic landscape scenery filming. That being said, this didn’t feel like a simple movie filmed on a soundstage with an Escape from New York type vibe. There is a realistic foreground littered with burnt out cars and thousands of corpses while the internal casino scenes looked exactly as you would imagine an abandoned casino would look. 

The makeup and costumes are fantastic with all the zombies looking slightly different and their own personality. There isn’t a wide use of special effects other than the destroyed and abandoned city of Las Vegas which looked incredible and lots and lots of gunfire and explosions. As you would hope this is quite a gory movie which doesn’t hold back on bloodshed and gruesome deaths. The way we see zombies heads explode is quite impressive and the use of some sort of blue electrical looking blood is different and unique but does lack an explanation in the movie.

CAST

The movie stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, and Garret Dillahunt.

The lead is Dave Bautista who I think makes a great leading man in this type of action movie. He obviously has the physical attributes but also has the acting ability to carry the weight of leading a movie on his broad shoulders. 

Overall I found the cast all fit their roles well and created a diverse cast with great chemistry. My only criticism about the cast is that the style of this movie felt a little dated the way that everyone was young, attractive with muscular physiques and all just so happen to go into battle wearing small and tight clothing. The costumes were inconsistent and something that stood out was how Bautista’s character wore body armour, arm protection, knee pads, big boots but then his female counterpart Maria (Ana de la Reguera) decided all she needed to wear was some tight combat trousers and a vest top as was similar with the rest of the female cast.

ARMY OF THE DEAD – (L-R) NORA ARNEZEDER as LILLY, SAMANTHA WIN as CHAMBERS, ANA DE LA REGUERA as CRUZ, DAVE BAUTISTA as SCOTT WARD and OMARI HARDWICK as VANDEROHE.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

I went into this movie with high hopes following Zack Snyder’s last masterpiece Justice League: The Snyder Cut. I came away feeling OK about this movie but sadly not blown away. Army of the Dead has the action and adrenaline pumping sequences for the audience to enjoy but it’s slow middle and over inflated run time made the overall experience slightly disappointing. I don’t feel this is a bad movie by any stretch but it’s one that falls into the OK category and one that doesn’t inspire me to want to rewatch it any time soon. 

With tons of potential and opportunities at a sequel this could develop into the creation of a new Netflix Zombie universe. I would happily watch more from this world and certainly more from Zack Snyder but more focus on the Zombie element and less on the character drama would be nice. This doesn’t redefine the Zombie genre and doesn’t compare to the likes of George A. Romero’s classics. While feeling like a higher class version of the Resident Evil movies the action scenes are incredibly entertaining and isn’t the worst way to spend two and half hours.

I watched this via an advance preview screener issued by Netflix UK and received no incentive to review this movie. All images and artwork are courtesy of Netflix UK and their respective owners.

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