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.