Review: Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead Is Character-Driven; Which Also Includes The Zombies
Zack Snyder is back on the big screen after years of dealing with that whole Justice League thing. Well, almost. With his first-ever original movie since his feature film debut in 2004, Army Of The Dead is also his first Netflix original. After remaking George Romero’s classic, Snyder returns to innovate the zombie genre that launched his career. And in this Army Of The Dead review, I’ll discuss how it’s a worthy addition to the genre, while also a great action entertainer, with some emotional moments.
Zack Snyder Is The Star Of Army Of The Dead
One thing is clear even as the opening credits role; the star of Army Of The Dead is Snyder himself. The filmmaker not only wrote the story and screenplay, produced and directed, but he’s also credited as the Director of Photography. And it’s evident in the framing shots of the movie, that this is different and totally unexpected for a zombie movie. Snyder often gets up close and personal with his characters, something that really lends to the claustrophobic and anxious vibes of being surrounded by zombies. The movie has very few wide shots, something that speaks to how character driven the story really is as well. Army Of The Dead is supposedly more of a heist movie, set in a Zombie apocalypse, than the traditional zombie movie. But those elements sort of rub against one another during the movie, which is my biggest issue with it. I wish it was more one or the other, instead of trying to be both.
But otherwise, the film gives us everything that we can expect from a Snyder movie, along with some great surprises. The movie begins by setting the stage for a Zombie apocalypse with a prologue sequence. A convoy of military vehicles transports a mysterious cargo through the Nevada desert. A random traffic accident sets the cargo loose, as the soldiers discover that they were actually transporting an undead creature. Cue the opening credits montage, which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Snyder flexes his master filmmaker abilities by world-building the movie, solely in the opening credits. It’s a great sequence that’s fun while also being informative.
This Army Of The Dead Review Is Spoiler-Free
Image via Netflix.
Diving too much into most my criticisms in this Army Of The Dead review would be spoiler territory. What I can say however, is that the movie suffers from some pacing and tonal issues. But despite those issues, there’s a lot to like in Army Of The Dead. Most of which has to do with how Snyder really does get to innovate many things within the genre. The performances are tight, especially from a cast of actors that may not be household names or ‘stars’. There’s a lot of charm, while the action sequences are anxiety-inducingly good. But that’s expected. Now, let’s keep in mind that this Army Of The Dead review will stay spoiler-free, to not ruin the experience for you.
The premise of Army Of The Dead is very generic. It’s the setting that’s unique. America has contained the zombie apocalypse within the city limits of Las Vegas. A wall of cargo containers around the entire city keeps the zombies in. Soon though, they’ll be eradicated as the government plans to nuke the entire city. However, there’s a ton of gambling money left over in Sin City. Enter rich casino owner guy, Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). He hires former badass turned burger flipper, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), to steal $200 million from the soon-to-be-blown-up city. The stage is set. The obligatory ‘assemble the team’ montage follows, introducing the rest of the quirky and unique characters. So far pretty straightforward. The characters’ motivations aren’t really that well defined, outside of Ward’s and Maria’s (Ana de la Reguera). So the run time might have been better served developing those backstories a bit more.
How Army Of the Dead Goes From Generic To Genius
The best part of this movie! Alpha Zombie! | Image via Netflix.
Ward’s backstory comes early in the movie and is genuinely heartbreaking and just an explosion of frantic desperation, which works wonderfully. Bautista, not really known for his acting chops, gets some great moments here to showcase some of his more restraint abilities; and it’s good! But where things really take off, is when the team finally breaks into the zombie city. This is where Snyder’s story shines, as the zombies in this world are not the ones we’ve become used to in decades of stories set in this genre. Snyder provides more depth and substance to the creatures. The only intimidating thing about them before this, was their sheer numbers. Oh, and the whole eat-your-brains thing.
Snyder does this through the character of Lily, a coyote that sneaks people in and out of the zombie-ridden city, to steal chump change from the abandoned casinos. Lily (Nora Arnezeder) explains to the group how the world assumes Vegas is the zombies’ prison, where in reality, it’s their kingdom. Enter the organized zombies with the Alpha zombie that the trailers teased for months. Army Of The Dead really has fun with this element of the story, but something I wish was explained further.
The Movie Is A Great Casual Action Entertainer
It’s not a Zack Snyder movie if there’s no slow-mo action scene. | Image via Netflix.
Snyder focuses a lot of the runtime on the characters and the world-building. In a movie that I would’ve been very happy being 90 minutes of mindless (get it?) zombie action and gore. But instead, Army Of The Dead is 148 minutes of story and set up. Given the length, I expected to get a lot more character development for the ensemble, instead of just being focused on Ward and his relationship with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). While the action more than makes up for those moments, I do still wish we got more of it.
But I can see what Snyder was doing. The longer we spent with the characters, in their present predicament, the more shocking and stakes-driven the action sequences were. And it worked, for the most part. I was on the edge of my seat during every zombie-fight scene. But I feel the energy and the pacing would have had more momentum if the runtime was tighter with the story we got. There are also some questions I have about the world-building, especially the beginning and end. It definitely feels like Snyder had to leave some room for universe building, especially knowing that there is more Army Of The Dead spin-offs coming. However, in no way did that ever take away from my enjoyment of this movie.
We Need More Of The Wonderful Cast
Buddy comedy spin-off please! | Image via Netflix.
The Army Of The Dead movie is an enjoyable entertainer that provides enough action and story to keep audiences involved in its events. The performances by Purnell, Reguera and Omari Hardwick were wonderful. Tig Notaro was an excellent choice as a last-minute addition to the cast. The stand-out, however, is Matthias Schweighofer. His safecracker Dieter was the best part of the movie, and the consistent source of humor. The only non-fighter of the group, Dieter was hilarious, sweet and his chemistry with Hardwick’s Vanderohe was great! Again, my only complaint it seems, is that I wish we got more of those interactions, instead of some other sub plots. And a quick shoutout to one of the most talented Bollywood actresses, Huma Qureshi, featuring in a small but important role; acting almost as mini Maguffin, now that I think about it.
As I keep mentioning in this Army Of The Dead review, the movie presents an interesting take on the concept of zombies themselves. With how the movie began and ended, I definitely want more of this universe. And I will not be disappointed, as we know there is an Army Of The Dead prequel and anime on its way.
Army Of The Dead releases on Netflix on May 21.
Are you excited to see what Zack Snyder does with an original zombie movie? Let us know if you’re gonna be checking out this movie n the comments below.
Featured image via Netflix.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.