The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - ARMY OF THE DEAD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - ARMY OF THE DEAD

army of the dead review
A team of mercenaries attempt to retrieve a fortune from a zombie invested Las Vegas.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Garret Dillahunt

army of the dead poster

Zack Snyder is one of the most Marmite filmmakers working today. While many find his work shallow and immature, he has amassed a legion of fans who exert so much power that they convinced Warner Bros to give Snyder $80 million to complete his cut of Justice League (though it likely helped that Warners wished to distance themselves from the director who had replaced Snyder, Joss Whedon, subject of various abuse allegations). I have to admit I'm in the former camp when it comes to Snyder, though I do have a fondness for his directorial debut, his 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. That movie is the best of the crop of remakes of classic '70s and '80s American horrors that emerged in the noughties, and it's still the best of the wave of zombie movies it, along with Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, kicked off.

Since then however, Snyder has become a byword for shallow, excessive cinema. His films are known for their indulgent use of slow motion, quasi-fascistic worldview, cardboard characters and the most clichéd needle drops imaginable. If Snyder's return to the zombie genre with Army of the Dead suggested he might replicate the success of his debut, any hope is extinguished by the time the credits roll with, you guessed it, a painfully long slo-mo sequence accompanied by the most obvious needle drop you could employ for a movie set in Las Vegas.

army of the dead review

The zombie genre has been done to…well, death at this point, so it's hard to imagine any filmmaker could find a way to resuscitate its shambling corpse at this point. Admittedly, Snyder does give us something I don’t recall seeing before – a zombie heist movie. But Army of the Dead adds nothing to the zombie genre, and even less to the heist movie.

As detailed in a prologue, which ultimately stands as the movie's high point, a zombie secretly transported by the military through the Nevada desert breaks free and makes its way to Vegas. One of Snyder's de rigueur slo-mo credits sequences then shows us the resulting chaos in Sin City, with zombie showgirls, zombie Elvis impersonators and zombie gamblers running amok. So bad is the situation that the government walls off Vegas and plans to nuke the city at sunset on the fourth of July. If such an idea hints at some biting, anti-authoritarian satire of the Romero school, think again, as Snyder has no such intentions beyond delivering a lot of carnage.

When ex-mercenary Scott (Dave Bautista) is approached by shady billionaire Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) and offered $50 million to enter Vegas and retrieve $200 million from a casino vault, he accepts what might be a suicide mission and assembles a crack squad to pull off the mission.

army of the dead review

In some quarters, Snyder has been likened to a second-rate Michael Bay. This leads me to do something I never thought I would – I'm going to defend Michael Bay! Like Bay's Armageddon, Army of the Dead is essentially a "guys (and gals) on a mission" movie. Both films feature that classic trope of assembling the team, but how the two filmmakers detail this is telling. In Armageddon, Bay does so through a quick montage that gives us details about the various team members through snippets of action. With Army of the Dead, Snyder resorts to a series of dull scenes in which Scott approaches each team member and engages in a blandly staged conversation.

This is endemic of Army of the Dead, which save for the odd action sequence, could be mistaken for an episode of any of the many zombie-themed TV shows of the past decade. With Snyder doubling as cinematographer, it's the most visually uninspired movie of the director's career. Say what you will about Snyder, but at least his movies usually look like movies (even if they don’t move like movies), which isn't the case for most of Army of the Dead. There's no sense of scale here, in terms of both the geography of the setting and the task our heroes face. We're initially told that Vegas is crawling with the undead, but once inside its walls they seem suspiciously few and far between, not so much an army as a platoon. Similarly, it's difficult to figure out how far from their goal they are at any given point.

Guys (and gals) on a mission movies rely heavily on colourful characters – think the misfits of Kelly's Heroes or The Dirty Dozen, or the over-the-top meatheads of Predator and Aliens – but the heroes of Snyder's film have no discernible personalities, distinguishable only by their tattoos and level of eyeshadow. The closest to an actual character is German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), but that's just because he's the only one who acknowledges how crazy the mission is. The usual witty repartee you expect of such characters is replaced by jokes that are stretched and strained to breaking point – I didn't laugh once.

army of the dead review

When it comes to horror movies, less is usually more. A babysitter stalked by a masked boogeyman will always be more terrifying than a crew of musclebound mercenaries battling a zombie horde, because a babysitter is a relatable figure and one we fear for. It's difficult to have the same anxiety for an ex-wrestler wielding a machine gun, no matter how many zombies might be charging towards him. As such, Army of the Dead simply doesn't function as a horror movie, and as an action movie it lacks sufficient creativity and craziness.

There's very little here we haven't seen before, and if we have seen it before it's been in superior movies like Aliens, Trespass, Ghosts of Mars and Dawn of the Dead (yes, both the Romero and Snyder cuts). When Snyder drops The Cranberries' 'Zombie' in the climax, we're left wondering if he isn't simply doubling down and playing a cruel joke on us.

Army of the Dead is on Netflix now.

2021 movie reviews