Directed by: Zack Snyder
Premise: After a zombie outbreak envelops Las Vegas, the government quarantines the city and plans to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb. A team of thieves and military veterans are recruited to steal the contents of a casino vault before the bomb is dropped.
What Works: Army of the Dead combines the heist thriller with the zombie movie and the filmmakers demonstrate a grasp of both genres. The movie offers the kinds of thrills and scenarios that audiences expect from these sorts of movies; from the heist genre we get the assembly of the team, the masculine camaraderie, and the inevitable double crosses and from the zombie genre we get the gory action, the invading horde, and the fear of infection. The movie demonstrates an understanding of its genres and a willingness to entertain and it does that quite well. Army of the Dead’s showmanship is one of its outstanding qualities and the film represents a change of pace from director Zack Snyder. A lot of Snyder’s films have been extremely dour and self-serious, especially his superhero movies. Army of the Dead has a different visual style and tone than anything Snyder has done before. This is a more playful film but it is also more human. Army of the Dead has some distinct characters and a few surprising performances. Dave Bautista is cast as the team leader and his character is traumatized by his experiences during the zombie outbreak. Bautista is really impressive here. He’s a capable action star but Bautista gets some softer character moments that reveal his range and depth. Also impressive is Nora Arnezeder as the guide who leads the team into the city, Tig Notaro as the helicopter pilot, and Matthias Schweighöfer as the safe cracker. These characters are types familiar to zombie and heist films but they are presented with humor and color.
What Doesn’t: Army of the Dead combines elements of zombie pictures and heist films but it does not juxtapose those elements in a way that foils the clichés or enhances the conventions. The movie plays as a compilation of heist and zombie clichés. The zombie half of this story does add some novelty, building upon ideas seen in Land of the Dead and The Girl with All the Gifts, but Army of the Dead doesn’t carry those innovations forward. The ideas about the undead don’t serve any purpose; it’s easy to imagine a nearly identical version of this film without those innovations. Also, as pointed out by the critics at Red Letter Media, Army of the Dead rips a lot off of 1986’s Aliens.
Bottom Line: Army of the Dead is an entertaining mix of the zombie and heist genres. In usual Zack Snyder fashion, the movie is overambitious and underdeveloped but this is a fun piece of action and horror.
Episode: #853 (May 30, 2021)