Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead zombie film isn’t just a return to form for the auteur who first made his directorial debut with zombie flick Dawn of the Dead, it also marks the return and perhaps resurrection of the fan favourite director who has spent the last eight years directing superhero movies, and is ready for something different, if not familiar.
After a bloody comic book spectacle that started in 2006’s 300, and ended in a bloodbath with 2017’s Justice League, 2021’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League has seemingly ended his 15-year relationship with Warner Bros, and the 55-year-old is ready to just Netflix and chill.
After dealing with the nasty debacle at Warner Bros, Snyder feels that taking on this new franchise is right for him. With Netflix giving him full support, the director has been able to be as creative as he would like, serving as director, producer, writer, and cinematographer on Army of the Dead.
“What you see is what you get,” says the director in a video interview with Geek Culture. While his journey into Army of the Dead means a loss to superhero fans, Snyder hopes his fans can understand how much this new project means to him, not only as a director, but as a creator.
“I was really just trying to sort of reconnect with the joy of making movies, and even just in the process of making it! Being the DP and the director and the camera operator, really was just like a complete cinematic immersion for me. Not to mention, even the genre, and deep-dive, full immersion for me whether it be the tropes…everything is sort of a love letter to movies in general – that’s what it means to me,” gushes Snyder.
But if there’s one thing Snyder knows, it’s that audiences want and need a hook, so how does one keep the concept of zombies fresh and well, rejuvenated? Well, how about making them smart? Just like his work in Dawn where zombies can move quickly, Army portrays zombies that are smarter, faster and probably even cultured. Oh, and there’s even a leader for these alpha zombies – Zeus. These are some new elements Snyder introduces into the genre, but worry not, the director assures that plenty of the rules that make a good classic zombie film still stands.
“You get bit, depending on who you are or how bad the bite is, it might take a while to turn but eventually you’re going to become a zombie, and that the only way to kill a zombie, really is shoot it in the head. Those rules we kept are zombie canon. We kept those rules as we went into Army,” assured Snyder. “And then we have slight subtleties like if Zeus bites you, you turn into an alpha. If an alpha or a shambler bites you, you turn into a shambler, that’s pretty much it.”
As seen in the trailer, the new smarter alpha zombies are not to be messed with, as they’ve built their own community and can organise attacks against the show’s heroes, or “heroes” as Snyder puts it. Heroes, not superheroes.
“The alphas are very much like a wolf pack or like a pack of lions. They might be social with each other but you’re still not able to reason with them or talk to them or get sympathy from them. They’re going to rip you in half if they catch you,” said Snyder.
“One of the main things I was hoping is that you would be sympathetic at one point towards the zombie. I thought the best monster movies are where you care about or at least find yourself showing compassion for the monster. With a normal zombie movie it’s difficult because they don’t really represent individual point of view, whereas Zeus allows that and you find yourself going, ‘God damn, those humans need to leave these zombies alone!’”
And the humans here are led by WWE wrestler turned actor, Dave Bautista, who plays Scott Ward leading his Las Vengeance crew into the zombie infested city of Las Vegas to pull off a heist. Whether or not you stand on the side of the crew, or the Alphas who have made a home out of the city, one thing for sure is that the movie is a visual spectacle and is as extravagant as how you’d imagine Las Vegas would be. From zombie versions of Elvis Presley and cabaret show girls on the lookout for fresh human meat, you’d be shocked to know that the movie wasn’t filmed in Las Vegas at all.
According to Snyder, he had a lot of fun replicating Las Vegas for Army of the Dead and was pleased to hear that his vision successfully translated.
“It’s funny because we couldn’t get into actual casinos so what we did was we went to Atlantic City and we’ve gotten these authentic casinos that had lost their gaming licenses, and we brought in all of our own slot machines, and just recreated a casino from scratch,” laughed Snyder.
“It was fun shooting Atlantic City because you know it’s like a miniature Vegas anyway, so that was really fun. The only difference is we had zombies running in our [version of Las Vegas] and we were shooting it up and there were sparks and all that and we were destroying the tables and cards were flying everywhere so yeah it was pretty fun once you got into it.”
And if you thought that alphas were the only thing Snyder is pushing in this film, you have another thing coming as he is also bringing back the phenomenon known as zombabies from Dawn into Army, where the undead can have offsprings. The director hopes it would revolutionise the zombie genre and that it could possibly be explored in the franchise’s upcoming series or prequel movie.
“The zombaby in Army has been conceived after they were already zombies so… something is going on in the Alpha community that is pretty scary I would say,” teased the director. “It’s a scary next step because that means zombies can create other zombies without humans, and it’s so interesting. My obsession with that is the idea of what and how would this child be born and grown and live and learn.”
Guess all we have to do is wait and see whether or not zombabies will be a thing in the future. Until then, Army of the Dead premieres on Netflix and in select cinemas on 21 May 2021.