Review: Army of the Dead (Netflix movie)

Zak Snyder picks up the pace after the portentously dull “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. Army of the Dead is marketed as a mash-up of the zombie movie and heist movie genres and the good news is that is exactly what it is.

The set-up has its own pre-titles sequence, when an army convoy goes horribly wrong, unleashing something on the city of Los Vegas. The cleverest party of the movie happens during the titles which pack in the plot of a conventional zombie-outbreak movie in a short sequence. Las Vegas succumbs to zombies (cue zombie showgirls, zombie Elvis etc) and we meet a set of survivors who somehow stay one step ahead of the shambling hordes but have to make bitter sacrifices on the way.

At the start of the movie proper, Las Vegas is walled off, America has eliminated zombies in the rest of the country but many of the poorer survivors from Las Vegas are still stuck in refugee camps near the walls of the city. You can take the refugee camp scenes either as dig at America’s treatment of immigrants or Snyder making a dig at covid restrictions — both elements are there and Snyder’s libertarianism works well in this kind of context where he applies a healthy cynicism to government power. Theo Rossi’s creepy and abusive camp guard is certainly dressed to look like he could be working for ICE. In a far more dubious casting choice, Snyder has former Trump-presidency White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer play “male pundit” (according to IMDB) on a TV news clip trying to justify the continued incarceration of refugees from Vegas. You could spend a lot of time trying to unpack that but it really is just the usual Zak Snyder having interesting but disconnected thoughts that wobble between overly sincere to superficially cynical.

Don’t let that put you off though. This is a zombie-heist movie and that is what Snyder delivers. Dave Bautista, who barely survived the opening title sequence, is recruited by a Japanese billionaire to infiltrate the walled-off Vegas and break into the billionaire’s casino and steal back millions of dollars that have already been written off by the billionaire’s insurance company. This means Bautista has to:

  • get the team back together i.e. recruit the survivors he escaped Las Vegas with
  • recruit the key experts (helicopter pilot, safecracker etc)
  • reconnect with his estranged adult daughter

All good stuff. Of course there are hidden agendas and dubious members of the team and potential betrayals in the offing.

Snyder’s visual design is typically very good and having a reliable template to work with for a plot, his habit of creating films that are just stylistically appealing scenes stitched together in a sequence is less of a problem than usual. Vegas has classic slow zombies but also smarter and more organised fast zombies, which keeps the tension high through the film. There is also a zombie tiger, which is a delightfully horrible bit of CGI magic and also makes me start liking Zak Snyder. It is a gratuitous addition but a good gratuitous addition.

I shan’t recount the rest of the plot. You can figure out most of it and that the simple get-in-get-out plan goes awry in multiple ways.

I was nearly at the end of the film and I wasn’t cross at Zak Snyder or bored. Yes, the film still had that feeling that Snyder stitches his films together based on a playlist of songs but he so very nearly made it to the end without anything as cringe-making awful as using Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Watchmen. Very nearly made it. Almost there Zak. Yet, just as every heist movie has to have the plucky gang of misfits nearly make it out and yet somehow fail at the last moment, so Zak has to trip up at the end.

What’s the most simplistic but utterly wrong choice of a song to include in a zombie movie? A choice that you might get by Googling the word “zombie song” and then realising that is a stupid way to pick songs for a zombie movie? Did you pick Zombie by the Cranberries? A song in which Dolores O’Riordan expresses her sadness and frustration with the history of violence in Northern Ireland after the death of two children in North West of England in an IRA bombing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_(The_Cranberries_song) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warrington_bombings)? If you did pick that and then thought “no…not even Zak Snyder would be that crass” then I’m sorry to disappoint you, he really is exactly that crass.

On the positive side, it isn’t a boring Zak Snyder film and there’s some good performances by the cast. Also, bonus point for the zombie tiger.

On the negative side, it is still a Zak Snyder film.

15 thoughts on “Review: Army of the Dead (Netflix movie)

  1. I strongly suspect Snyder has no idea what “Zombie” by the Cranberries is really about, even though the lyrics do mention bombings. I suspect he hasn’t really listened to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen either, but then very few people realise what the lyrics to that one actually say, which is why there are so many inappropriate uses.

    I haven’t seen the movie and I likely won’t, though I notice that the reactions are mostly, “Zak Snyder has made a movie that is actually kind of okay.”

    BTW, the guy who plays the safecracker, Matthias Schweighöfer, is a big star in Germany and mostly known for romantic comedies. His big breakthrough role was a movie where a ferrett bit off his penis. After that, even Zak Snyder won’t hurt your career.

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    1. //BTW, the guy who plays the safecracker, Matthias Schweighöfer, is a big star in Germany and mostly known for romantic comedies.// The film didn’t give him a great role – sort of campy-German-cliches (plus Wagner tunes of course) but he did OK with what he was given to work with.

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      1. German actors usually have to play terrible roles, if they want to get a foot into the Hollywood door and most never make it anyway. I suspect Schweighöfer was just happy that he didn’t have to play a shouty Nazi.

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  2. What I find most interesting about the movie is that the helicopter pilot, Tig Notaro, replaced a man who had filmed the whole movie. So Snyder green-screened her in to all the scenes she’s in over a couple of days! She never met any of the other cast, just looked up at a tennis ball on a stick to represent the eyeline to Bautista, etc.

    It seems a very Snyder thing to do. Along with the cringey inappropriate song.

    I don’t have Netflix but I’m sure my life will not be impoverished by missing this.

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    1. I’m not a Snyder fan (at all), but when the story broke about what the previous actor had done he immediately set to replacing him without any hesitation. So, kudos for that at least.

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  3. Yeah, it was…okay, in a park-your-brain-at-the-door for 2-1/2 hours kind of way.

    I rather liked the zombie tiger (and the head Alpha was also riding a zombie horse). Did anybody see, though, that the king dug a freaking zombie embryo out of his queen’s body?

    Of course, the last guy standing won’t get to enjoy his money, but will turn just before or as they’re landing in Mexico City. Which means the human race is screwed, of course….

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  4. We were disappointed. It wasn’t without any fun. The zombie tiger was excellent and so was Matthias Schweighöfer. He was my favorite and got the best lines. The actors who played Lily and Van were also good and of course Tig delivered on a role that wasn’t written for her but could have been. Enjoyed the alpha zombies.

    But we’d been expecting from the trailer something funnier and weirder in combining the zombies with bad-ass zombie killers in a heist situation, more B movie camp with a hefty budget that would provide more CGI surprises — Resident Evil meets Shaun of the Dead. The first part of the movie covering the outbreak basically delivered that, but the rest was bog standard shoot em up and labored with a poor script, a heist plan that made even less sense than such things usually do, characters who weren’t very bright, heartfelt discussions when they’re supposed to be rushing, a few racist stereotypes and forcing Ella Purnell to play the most annoying woman ever. There were not nearly enough sarcastic jokes or cool stunts in the film to make that work.

    If I’d known that Zack Snyder did the film, I might have had less interest in seeing it, but I did not till the opening credits. The guy is just not great at making movies. I do not understand why some people are so into him. He is not good at writing humor, he’s soap operatic on the drama, he takes forever and needs to do shorter cuts. (My husband braved the Snyder cut of Justice League and found it excruciating in that area.) But perhaps if this one breeds a franchise, he’ll let some other people play with it. It did have some good potential in the zombie mythology, but it just felt like the actors were really underused with a poorly cooked script.

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      1. It’s frustrating, though it was a frustration borne in part of expectations of what sort of movie it would be, which is a common art experience for everyone. He gets some good ideas — the opening worked well — and some actors seem to like working with him, which is nice these days. But he drags out boring things and shots, can’t seem to put things together well as you said, is highly uneven on dialogue and is really bad at doing women characters. And this one had some racial stereotypes I’m not real happy with, notable the Japanese casino tycoon.

        But mainly it was overly long and lacking in laughs or surprises/clever action beyond a bit or two. The biggest problem with zombie movies and t.v. that take a heavily dramatic tack rather than a comic one is that they always seem to need to write the living characters as clueless as infants. And again, we’d expected in this film that some of these characters were experienced zombie killers who would not be all clueless as infants and yet they were. Even Lily, who was, when you boil it down, the most interesting and mysterious character in the thing, wasn’t really brilliant. And having Lily be a pale white woman and be called a coyote was, you know, a thing.

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  5. I watch Snyder’s films and generally think “he should be working for e.g. Rockstar, writing/producing open-world video games” – he seem to follow the pattern of those much more successfully, which may be why they never seem to quite work as ‘films’ for me. Although I admit that I have yet to come out of a Snyder film thinking “I wish I could get those two-and-a-bit hours back” which I do with far too many other directors; but then again, none of his films would come even close to troubling my desert island list.

    [Note: I’m not saying that he should try helming an actual specific-videogame-to-movie adaptation. That would likely be a disaster, as Watchmen showed; it’s not a bad movie but he is so much better at original IP.]

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  6. They’ve been trailing it on Instagram with just a few seconds footage of the zombie tiger. Half of me is very tempted to watch it just for that; the other and more sensible half is remembering that the trailer always has the best bits and if there are no best bits that don’t involve the tiger (and of course Tig)

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