Published on May 22nd, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant0
Army of the Dead
No doubt the real army of the undead will be Snyder fanboys calling this unabashed genius, but it’s mostly an exercise mediocrity and confusing nonsense.
With Army of the Dead, director Zack Snyder finally steps away from the DC Comics world and heads back to Zombietown. Love or hate Snyder, his debut feature Dawn of the Dead is his best movie and oddly enough, probably one of the best remakes of all time. Romero’s zombie films are built on a continuing story (sort of), but Army is in a different universe than Dawn, as far as I could tell.
In Army, an alpha zombie is unleashed on Las Vegas, causing the city to fall to an army of the undead. The government puts a fence around Sin City and plans to drop a nuke on it. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) fought his way out of Vegas and saved a lot of lives, but couldn’t save his wife or his relationship with his daughter. Now he’s hired to put a team together to pull off a heist in the middle of zombie territory.
The film started off well — in fact, the opening credits are easily the best part. After they’re done, it settles into introducing us to the characters and the situation. This goes on for almost an hour; we’re about 50 minutes in when the mission starts. There are some good scenes in there but it definitely slows the movie down significantly. Snyder seems to be of the same ilk as Tarantino, if not in talent, then in his inability to edit himself. I mean, a four-hour Justice League movie was never going to end up in theatres. Something as ambitious as Justice League at least partially sustains that crazy running time, but Army of the Dead proves to be a pretty straightforward shoot ‘em up. It’s hard to argue that it needs to be as long as it is.
In fact, there’s not a lot of character work done. Scott Ward and his daughter get a bit of a back story and the most well-developed relationship beyond that is probably the zombie king and his bride, which is pretty sad. The personal moments that are there feel perfunctory or lost in the noise. I don’t need to watch a movie like this for the character work (though good writing will improve any film). But again, if we’re going to forgo characters and stakes, Army of the Dead should have clocked in at an hour and 45 minutes at the most.
Horror movies, especially zombie films, often use their high concept to explore sociological questions. Night of the Living Dead (inadvertently) looks at racial issues in America and Dawn of the Dead questions our consumerism. Army of the Dead has every opportunity to do the same — it even sets up a refugee camp outside of Vegas, begging for a comment on Trump’s America. But Snyder does nothing with it. He doesn’t have anything to say beyond kaboom and kaboom again. Not to sound like a broken record, but this would be fine — if the movie didn’t drag like a shuffling zombie leg slowly scraping across pavement.
The action itself, beyond the opening montage, is pretty standard. Those opening credits set an expectation that we were going to see some crazy, fun gory action zombie kills, but it was mostly mowing them down with machine guns or letting zombies overtake them so they could rip off Aliens by blowing themselves up. Except, it happens without the drama and sacrifice you feel when it happens in Aliens. (more thoughts on the zombies and the rules of the movie in a more spoilery section below).
Army of the Dead isn’t absolutely terrible, but it’s not good either. It has its moments. It looks shiny and fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, so neither should I. That said, it pales in comparison to Synder’s Dawn of the Dead. It just ends up being not only mediocre, but way too long, and as empty and hollow as the personality of a zombie.
(Thar be spoilers here)
- I like Tig Notaro as a comedian, but she’s a terrible actress (as also seen recently in Star Trek Discovery). The technical lengths they went to to put her in the movie are super cool, but her delivery make her stick out like a sore thumb.
- I have so many questions about the types of zombies and their rules, which isn’t great for a movie like this. A mysterious monster that you have to figure out can be good in some movies, but it will always follow a logic the audience can track. I admit that I may have missed some explanations in all the noise and bright lights, so maybe further watches or reader comments will fill me in. But let’s explore this:
You have the drone zombies, which are regular slow zombies. Then you have the alpha zombies, who are smarter and faster. The whole thing started with King Zombie (I think his name is actually Zeus, haha) falling off a truck. They say that people that are bitten by an alpha zombie then become alpha zombies. So, how are there drone zombies at all?
Maybe if you get killed after being bitten and you weren’t torn apart, you become a zombie? If you get bitten but live, you turn into an alpha zombie? Either way, it’s so unclear that it pulled me out of the movie a couple of times. I realize most movie goers who are there for a dumb action movie aren’t going to care about this. Such is my curse.
- ALSO…what are the kill rules for the alpha zombies? At the beginning, machine gun fire doesn’t seem to affect ‘Ole King Z. I don’t know if they shot him in the head, but you’d have to imagine they did. Yet later, other alpha zombies can be shot and killed fairly easily, even if it has to be a head shot. Suddenly, King Z is wearing a bullet proof mask that covers the front of his skull (so, go behind him, duh). He stupidly takes this on and off. But I’m pretty sure he gets shot point blank in the head in the helicopter and it doesn’t do anything (and why would Dave Bautista shoot him anywhere else?). I might have to slow the film down to see who is shooting who where, but it seemed confusing to me (and no, I’m not going to slow the film down and check. In fact, slowing this film down more could mean you’d invert the time space continuum and it could implode the universe).
- They also seem to set up a lot of different things like hibernating zombies just so the group has to weave their way through them quietly. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it just feels a little obvious and video gamey.
- Here’s another thing that struck me: you can’t tell me that a bunch of refugees and heist mercs can wander in and out of Zombie Vegas, but the government doesn’t send agents in there. So, they have to know that King Zombie exists. So, that seems really dangerous in terms of the potential for a full-on zombie outbreak. So, you’d think they’d have nuked the city a lot sooner. But, I guess if they had done the thing that makes the most sense before the movie started, there’d be no movie.
- I don’t love the smart zombie idea. Why not make these aliens or monsters? I don’t mind a fast zombie (though I prefer slow), but the scary thing about a zombie isn’t that it’s a growling monster that can beat you at chess. It’s that they aren’t really all that dangerous, until they’re in a large, unrelenting group, or unless you get lazy and make a mistake. That’s way scarier to me. That said, there’s room for the genre to grow and I’ll admit to being annoyingly purist about it.
- So, zombies fuck? And have wee zombie babies? Come on. Just, come on.
- Then, after the credits roll, anyone that was left alive dies of cancer. You know, from the nuclear explosion.