Army of the Dead: Review
Army of the Dead Synopsis: 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. Stars Dave Bautista, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Shweighöfer, Nora Arnezender, Ella Purnell, Huma Qureshi, Raúl Castillo, and Theo Rossi comprise the death-defying team.
After a decade toiling in the DC Universe, Zack Snyder has finally escaped the restrictions of rigid studio filmmaking. What better way to celebrate than returning to his zombified roots. Snyder’s debut film, 2004’s breakout remake Dawn of the Dead, served as the igniting force behind his glossy auteur style. Now teaming with Netflix, Snyder’s latest bombastic epic Army of the Dead finds the zombie genre operating at its most opulent. For what the director envisions, Army of the Dead provides exhilarating blockbuster entertainment.
Akin to the film’s high-class setting, Snyder sinfully basks in the violent and downright deranged aspects of his indulgent sensibility. The director’s typically self-serious demeanor is completely absent, a choice that refreshingly magnifies Snyder’s penchant for gonzo bombast. He imbues wildcard energy and a spirited shamelessness while embracing the pure mania of its zombies meets heist movie premise. After grueling duels with studio heads over his creative vision, it’s a joy to see Snyder cheerfully playing in the sandbox of genre mechanics.
Whether he’s referencing 50’s B-movies (the opening vignette is timeless while maintaining a modern verve) or the haunting iconography of classics like Predator, the director proudly wears a bevy of thoughtfully incorporated influences on his sleeve. Serving as director and cinematographer, Snyder revitalizes familiar staples through his unkempt panache behind the camera. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but Army of the Dead boasts some of the most jaw-dropping, ready for YouTube replay setpieces I’ve seen in some time. The dynamic framing and boundary-pushing stunt work create a medley of brilliantly unhinged sequences. I love seeing an auteur director push his sensibility to its absolute apex, with Snyder skillfully blending the horror, heist, and blockbuster pastiches into one satisfying concoction.
Army of the Dead’s greatest charm lies in its star-studded cast. Dave Bautista continues to prove he’s a flat-out star. As the firm leader Scott, the brilliant character actor commands the screen with self-assured gravity and charisma (he’s the grounding anchor to all the chaos surrounding him). Scott’s team of rag-tag misfits also elevates their archetype roles. Omari Hardwick and Garrett Dillahunt present a playful swagger onscreen as bold tough guys. Tig Notaro shines as a deft comedic scene-stealer, while the film’s biggest breakout Matthias Schweighöfer has a blast as the team’s quirky safebreaker. The whole cast shows enough affability to engage audiences despite their inevitability as zombie bait.
Army of the Dead might be Snyder’s best work to date, but that doesn’t prevent the film from featuring his typical falterings. Even as the romp entertains throughout its 148-minute duration, the project can’t help feeling bloated with the vast array of characters and story beats. Another pass in the editing room could’ve properly trimmed the experience to a razor-tight two-hour thrill ride. I also don’t think the film’s emotional anchor (the distant father-daughter dynamic between Scott and Ella Purnell’s Kate) works as well as it should. A few touching moments are mostly overwhelmed by melodramatic writing and flat contrivances.
Missteps aside, Army of the Dead is the roaring crowdpleaser I’ve been missing since last year’s pandemic. I had a blast seeing Snyder create his own inventive amalgam of genre influences, and I can’t wait to see what he does with this new cinematic universe (Army of the Thieves is a spin-off featuring Matthias Schweighöfer’s character).