Army of the Dead, 2021.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Starring Dave Bautista, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Tig Notaro, Nora Arnezeder, Ella Purnell, Huma Qureshi, Raúl Castillo, Samantha Win, Theo Rossi, Richard Cetrone, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Cassidy, Lyon Beckwith, Sarah Minnich, Richard Cetrone, Athena Perample, Chelsea Edmundson, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, and V Nixie.
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
Over the years Zack Snyder may have becoming synonymous with superheroes, but it was his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake which heralded the arrival of his unique style of cinema. Arguably his best movie, and a high point of the modern zombie sub-genre, Dawn arrived long before the undead swarmed the earth in everything from The Walking Dead to The Last of Us, and now Snyder returns to play in the corpse-littered sandbox of the action-horror genre, with ten-times the budget and none of the restraint.
At almost two-and-a-half hours, there’s very little flesh on the bones of Army of the Dead. With the simplest of heist movie set-ups, in which a mysterious money-man offers a down-on-his-luck character a once-in-a-lifetime gig, the main players introduced during a garishly funny opening credits sequence, and a series of Michael Bay style meet-the-gang moments, there’s no hanging about when it comes to moving the pieces into place.
Once the videogame style cut-scene introductions are done, Snyder wastes little time in showing off all of the downloadable content he’s going to play with; ripped zombies who behave more like Planet of the Apes than Land of the Dead, with their powers increasing like end-of-level bosses, and a “goddam zombie tiger” which attacks its prey in such a brutal way that it makes Leonardo DiCaprio’s bear tussle in The Revenant look like a playful belly-rub. That’s not to say that Army of the Dead is all in-your-face action beats and Team America posturing. There’s a wonderful scene in which the crew have to navigate through a horde of hibernating zombies, which while not the most original of set-pieces (see The Girl with All the Gifts, The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead), works really well among the bombast.
As for the crew, they’re a surprisingly likeable Aliens-lite bunch to root for; Bautista is great in the lead role. He has an innate ability to offer up a fragility that belies his hulking great frame, and this works really well with his back-story, which is at the heart of what little character work is on offer here. The quieter moments he shares with his estranged daughter (Ella Purnell – also excellent) are effective in ensuring that you’re invested in the gang escaping Las Vegas when shit goes South, which it inevitably does. Of the rest of the ensemble, Matthias Schweighöfer is a lot of fun as the safe-cracking Dieter, and Nora Arnezeder is something of an Atomic Blonde in her kick-ass role as the mysterious Coyote. The most disappointing element of the collective is the complete lack of humour. Not that gags aren’t peppered throughout, it’s just that most of the punchlines land with a thud.
Obviously this being a Zack Snyder film, Army of the Dead looks stunning, and thanks to what must be a huge PRS budget, has the soundtrack to match. The skies are beautifully framed, and the Vegas playground is a wonderful mish-mash of dereliction and excess. Even the on-the-nose use of a classic Cranberries song won’t put you off seeking out the playlist once the neon-pink credits roll.
Snyder’s souped-up Abercrombie zombies might not carry the same threat as Romero’s undead or Boyle’s infected, but Army of the Dead remains a ton of gory fun, which never takes itself too seriously, and neither should we.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt