I have liked three Zack Snyder movies. Those movies being the Snydercut of Justice League, Dawn of the Dead, and now the new Army of the Dead. While Snyder’s new zombie film might buckle under the pressure of its large cast of characters and does introduce too many dramatic elements, it makes up for it by being a wonderfully shot fun zombie movie mixed with a heist movie.
Army of the Dead follows a team of former zombie killers breaking into a infested Las Vegas to steal two hundred million dollars. When inside they find that some of the infected are much smarter than was thought. Now they must navigate around a community built within the zombie horde.
The story largely keeps it simple. Despite the ideas of organized zombies it never needlessly complicates things. Unlike previous Snyder movies (primarily in the DC universe), Army of the Dead doesn’t introduce an extremely complicated world and keeps motivations simple. This is largely to the film’s benefit. The primary motivation is that Scott (played fantastically by Dave Bautista) wants to provide for his daughter, Kate (played by Ella Purnell). For most of everyone else they just want cash or to kill some zombies. There are elements that feel like they could fall flat but the movie can also get away with a lot due to the terrific cast. The stand outs being Matthia Schweeighöfer (as Dieter), Omari Hardwick (as Vanderohe), and Tig Notaro (as Marianne Peters). Dieter and Vanderohe start off as more flat characters but develop into something more three dimensional based on their the performers’ chemistry. While Tig Notaro might’ve come into the movie to digitally replace a controversial performer, it’s just so much fun watching her on screen. I have never met someone that doesn’t like Notaro and I think many will enjoy her here.
The movie is also wonderfully shot, with the director of photography being Zack Snyder himself. When the movie started I thought that he might’ve been playing a little too much with focal lenses (he really likes not putting things into focus), but even that grew on me. No matter how you feel about most Snyder movies, he always has a vision and that is shown off here. Snyder shot an amazing opening credits sequence and is able to show off some fun bloody zombie mayhem. The color correction and editing that came in post-production help everything pop all the more. I’m a big fan of vibrant colors in movies and I’m shocked by how this zombie movie delivered in that area.
Of course, Tom Holkenborg’s music is another standout. Ever since his work on Mad Max: Fury Road people will always look out for when he does music for a movie.. His exciting music mixed with the occasional Kenny Rogers like country music mixed quite well.
Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect.
Where the movie mostly falters is in it’s scripting. The storytelling can get away with a lot, as I had mentioned, but it can’t get away with everything. When the movie introduces all of it’s characters it can feel like it’s struggling to find reason for you to be invested in all of them. It’s hard to not feel like you are not just being introduced to zombie dinner as the movie throws characters at you. I would also argue that a lot of the beginning dramatic elements fall flat. I wasn’t that interested in the primary father daughter relationship and there is an implied found family element with one of the characters that isn’t properly shown. Luckily, as the movie goes it does figure out the father and daughter elements. Other characters are saved based on their chemistry with others, but that can’t be said for everyone. There are also maybe too many dramatic elements for Dave Bautista’s character. A romance angle is introduced midway into the film that feels like it lasts only ten minutes and doesn’t add a whole lot. If I think hard there might be subtle hints at this romance earlier in the movie, but they felt extremely insufficient. In defense of the writers, I can see that this romance was put in so it would make you worry about the fate of one of the characters. I can see what they were trying to do but it doesn’t work in the end.
As many say with Snyder movies, Army of the Dead is too long. I like to think that I’m extremely patient with long movies. I often defend them. If a long runtime is what you need to tell a good story, then I say go for it, especially if your movie is on streaming. The issue comes when you can easily identify elements that could be cut. For example, the romance element I mentioned could have easily been cut. I also wish that they just cut some of the backstories and worked on character chemistry. I feel like the writers (which includes Snyder himself) accidentally stumbled into a strength with character back and forths but just didn’t realize it in time to further develop it. I could see some real strengths in the writing that just didn’t get completely displayed. .
Despite its problems, Army of the Dead is a hell of a good time. I know the zombie market has been oversaturated, but it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen a zombie movie that wants to just be fun. Army of the Dead is a fun zombie movie. With the development of prequels and spinoffs, I’m excited to see where this world goes. I would recommend Army of the Dead to zombie or action fans of any kind.