When it comes to revivals, trust Zack Snyder to turn it into a spectacle.
Best remembered as the former architect of the DC Extended Universe, Snyder’s resume includes the recent four-hour Justice League that few expected to see in its entirety; Watchmen, a movie deemed to be unfilmable due to its dense narrative but he brought it to life; and 300, about Spartan soldiers fighting for their lives against the Persian king.
But few remember that his directorial debut was with the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, so it’s telling that the first movie he directs, produces and writes after stepping out of his self-imposed withdrawal from production work after the death of his daughter in 2017 just so happens to be another zombie, Army of the Dead.
It’s also his first non-comic book movie in a decade, and while not a sequel or connected in any way to Dawn, Army shows just how much Snyder has evolved as a filmmaker.
The 55-year-old director teams up with Dave Bautista as mercenary Scott Ward, who recruits a team consisting of his right-hand Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), philosopher Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), expert navigator Coyote Lily (Nora Arnezeder), social media influencer Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo) and his friend Chambers (Samantha Win), as they set out on a heist to acquire US$100 million in zombie-infested Las Vegas.
But if you know Snyder, he’s not intent to follow in anyone’s footsteps, even his own.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the indicators that Snyder is introducing smart undead here, just like how he popularised quick-footed zombies in Dawn. Army of the Dead’s zombies aren’t like any other zombies. For starters, there are two different types of zombies in this movie – Shamblers and Alphas. Shamblers, as their name suggests, are the ones audiences are familiar with, where all they need is a good munch, and inadvertently turn you.
But the Alphas… that’s where the real nightmare is at.
Smarter, faster, organised and maybe even cultured, the Alphas are upgrades and have even established their own social hierarchy and order. They can *gasp* open doors, dodge bullets and are essentially harder to kill. These undead plan strategic attacks, communicate, and they all serve Zeus, the alpha who started it all. The zombies in Army of the Dead are superior to the walking dead, and game changers to what audiences think and believe to be zombies. The possibility of zombies surviving and thriving in a community far away from human civilisation is simply frightening and sets the genre up for a transformation.
But what’s the fun of having scary zombies without a satisfying method to take them out? Snyder relishes cinematic destruction and this movie has numerous explosions and flying bodies, showing the scary undead army, and the gory ways of dying and killing. Whilst the most effective way to kill a zombie – at least, in the realm of pop culture – has always been a bullet through the head, you’ve got to give Snyder some credit for using his creativity and giving us new things to flinch at, groan at and even smile at if you’re into that kind of stuff. That said, Army of the Dead is giving us something new and creative with the zombie genre and we aren’t complaining.
For starters, Snyder goes full guns akimbo in this movie, with bullets flying in all directions. If gun violence is your thing, then Army has lots of it. But it’s not just the quantity that blow our minds – it’s the quality of the action sequences. In classic Snyder style, action sequences are done in slow motion, and with a particular technique called speed ramping that gives viewers both a zoomed in and zoomed out view of the ongoing action.
Since it’s slowed down, audiences can not only take in the beauty of each frame when it’s zoomed out but can also see every microscopic detail of the same piece of action when the frame is zoomed in. It’s a little over the top, especially if you’ve recently seen this technique slightly overused in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, where it was used to show off each super’s powers and abilities when they’re going in for the punch. It’s the same concept here, except you’re seeing a bunch of badass people standing in formation, shooting at zombies like they’re giving out candy on Halloween.
Whilst there’s plenty of action scenes that were notable of a mention, our personal favourite has to be the scene in the casino where Scott, Coyote and Guzman are seen fighting zombies as gold coins and wads of cash fly all around them. The trailer gives a brief glimpse into the scene and we don’t want to spoil it for you either, but it’s scenes like the casino scene that really shows off Snyder’s capabilities as a filmmaker. At almost two and a half hours long, this is the Snyder Cut to catch, without the unnecessary drama and 4-year wait.
It’s interesting that despite being the latest in a shortlist of wrestler turned actor, Bautista hasn’t really gone the full action route that Dwayne Johnson and John Cena have. In fact, aside from his turn as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, this looks like Bautista’s first full-on action flick as a lead, and it’s satisfying to see him fully loaded, looking absolutely natural with a gun and finally see the pro-wrestler lead his own heavy action movie.
Bautista’s Scott was a food truck owner before creating his Las Vengeance crew, and saving a politician from the zombie-infested Las Vegas. After losing his food truck during the mission, he now works at a fast food place flipping burgers – widowed and estranged from his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). Broke, alone, and bored out of his wits, Scott didn’t take long to agree when Japanese businessman Hunter (Hiroyuki Sanada) comes knocking with the offer to split the US$100 million dollars, if the money can be extracted from the sealed vault.
With the US Military planning to turn Las Vegas into a nuclear wasteland to contain the zombie outbreak, the crew are under a time crunch and have to extract the money and find a way out of the city alive. And for some reason, Kate happens to be Scott’s way into the city.
Naturally, he spends a lot of time during the heist worrying about Kate, as she continuously acts out of her own interests – thus jeopardising the safety of everyone in the crew and disregarding her father’s attempts to reconnect. There’s a little human drama injected into the film that also allows Bautista some time to work on his approach as an actor, and who would have thought this big killing machine has a soft heart on the inside? Sadly, Kate comes across as a rather unlikable character, so Scott should just stop trying so hard.
Special mention must also be given to the movie’s score, which while not new, is brilliant. The film successfully uses Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler’ as its soundtrack, and for it to work shows how brilliant Snyder is. Using country and upbeat positive songs, to contrast the violence and horrors happening on screen adds a little bit of comedic value and a sense of bizarreness that sits with you. You can’t help but feel comfortable with the violence and yet still be bothered by it all at the same time.
Despite the action and music, Army of the Dead can feel a little bit like a never-ending drag, but for the beautiful cinematography, action, zombies and experience you get when watching this movie, it’s worth it. Again, our main frustration is that the movie pushes for the rekindling of a relationship with such an unlikeable character. Perhaps, if the movie was able to strongly justify Kate’s behaviour and characterisation, or have a female writer write this headstrong character instead, she may come off stronger and reasonable.
In all, Army of the Dead is the breath of fresh air this overdone zombie genre needs. Beautifully presenting new ideas and great acting by Dave Bautista all at once with an incredible soundtrack, this zombie movie is as good as it gets, and we can’t wait to see the prequel and animated series up next.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Army of the Dead is a freaking wild zombie heist movie that will blow your mind with its violence, visuals and overall valour to do something different and never seen before.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10