Any fans of Zack Synder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, who will be heading into this expecting a continuation will be bitterly disappointed. Truth be told any fans of the zombie sub-genre will also likely come away feeling the same way. Zombie characters who have more complex characteristics and fleshed out story arcs, action sequences that lack any sense of originality and scenes and directing choices that seem more ridiculous than the subject matter itself. Would it ever truly be a Zack Synder joint if it wasn’t riddled with such divisive opinions?
After a zombie outbreak claims the gambling capital of the US, casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to lead a team of hand picked specialists into the heart of a zombie occupied Las Vegas. Their job is to retrieve a large sum of cash locked up in a vault hidden beneath the casino’s floor and in turn will each receive a cut for their troubles. In typical zombie themed fashion not everything goes to plan for the team, as not only do they have to face up against endless hordes of the undead, lead by an Alpha zombie known as Zeus (Oh, Zack), but an impending small nuclear strike set to destroy the city as well.
In true Snyder fashion, the events leading up to what we see in the movie is told through its opening credits. Applied through slow-motion (obviously) we see the quick decay of Vegas being ravaged by the undead all to an inferior rendition of Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas. Only ten minutes in and you can already see the director forcing his style to seep through the cracks. And I can confirm once again that your appreciation for his filmmaking choices, will be the deciding factor as to the levels of entertainment you will take away from the movie.
The introduction to this ragtag bunch of mercenaries is about all the character development that Snyder believes you’ll need, and well that’s pretty much all you get. Bautista (Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy) is haunted by his previous trauma, which we are briefly shown through one scene in the movie and sees this money making opportunity as a chance to pave way for a new promising future for himself.
Beyond that there’s a couple of old crewmates that tag along for the ride, as Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) are also flattered by the large sum and are easily convinced. There’s a German safecracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), who for arguments sake we’ll just say is the Flash of this unjust league. The insider Lilly/The Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) is the crew’s way into the bordered grounds and a helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro) who serves as their best way out. Each character are given snippets and moments to make most of the unfulfilling material, but expecting anything in depth or beyond base level of character writing would be too much to ask.
The issues don’t solely rely on its writing, but rather its action spectacle as well. Army of the Dead feels like a culmination of all the worst parts of different zombie flicks over the years. There’s only so much head exploding I can take before I’m asking for something different or refreshing, and Zack has hinted at exactly that. But it’s brushed aside for the quick, brash action sequences that have become a staple in his filmmaking style.
There’s very little subtlety to Army of the Dead and everything is very much on the nose. From its tiresome religious references, to regurgitated directing techniques and generic, outdated genre specific storytelling. From the classic ‘of the Dead’ title card to an acoustic version of the Cranberries ‘Zombie’ playing out before the closing credits. Ironically everything comes across as feeling zombie like, even the characters that end up not receiving such fate, still feel as if they could easily blend into the background with the extras.
There’s the occasional moment where it narratively pokes itself towards a different, more interesting direction. There’s a handful of solid character moments and the odd humorous quip that helps break up its aggressively beaten action approach. Army of the Dead does little to divert your expectation, even if your expectations were set slightly higher. Snyder has hinted (and pretty much confirmed) that a saga continuing the story is set to see fruition in the coming years, but I expect more of the ideas that remained sheltered throughout this ordeal to come to pass in later instalments.