Zack Snyder delivers blood, guts and plenty of headshots while also seeking out the humanity of the Zombie experience in Army of the Dead on Netflix
Army of the Dead sees Zack Snyder make his official Netflix debut following the bittersweet victory
of the Snyder Cut (review here) earlier this year on HBO Max. Zack returns to the Zombie genre he found cult
status with back in 2004 with Dawn of the Dead and according to recent interviews, plans to
expand following the release of this film.
Army of the Dead is a Vegas heist movie in the vein of the Oceans series but without much of the glamour, glitz and beautiful people. Zombies have been a cinematic staple for over 30yrs and are seen as the perfect choice for cannon fodder when you need a high ‘body count ‘but not necessarily a large ‘human’ loss of life. There have been some attempts made over the years to provide some empathy towards zombies but never fully explored. The question of whether Zombies still maintain any humanity once changed, and if so, can we still justify their slaughter? Going down that line of thought can be problematic, so most directors choose to avoid it.
Zack Snyder attempts to begin that conversation and takes the brave step by evolving some of his Zombies in Army of the Dead. For the first time we see leadership structures, a community and the ability to plan and even recognise loss. These Zombies are quite possibly the closest on screen we have come to human existence. If they care about each other, work as a team and fight to survive, can they still be described as ‘The Undead’?
In Army of the Dead, an accident sees a secret government specimen get lose and infect the entire Vegas area. It is sealed off from the rest of the states which contains the problem, while the government works out a solution. The solution the government come up with is to drop a bomb in three days and obliterate the whole area which of course tends to be the most common problem-solving policy for the US government but, in this case, actually makes sense! Dave Bautista’s character Scott Ward is a veteran from the initial Zombie conflict who has fallen on challenging times, both in his personal and work life and is looking for a way to make a change.
He is approached by a shady Japanese businessman ‘Tanaka’ (HIROYUKI SANADA) with the proposition of entering the Zombie controlled territory and retrieving $200million from his safe trapped under a casino on the strip. In return, Scott is promised $50m to spend as he sees fit. As Tanaka puts it, it’s a simple in and out operation with a helicopter on the roof for extraction at the end.
The team Scott puts together each have their own back stories and talents relevant to the mission which really brings some emotional gravitas to the proceedings. Zack Snyder is skilled at bringing together characters we can invest in without necessarily knowing everything about them. As an assemble piece, we know enough to care, maybe not to the point of tears but at least enough to be bothered with who lives or dies. Of particular note is the budding ‘Bro-mance’ which develops between Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and Dieter (MATTHIAS SCHWEIGHÖFER)
The action and fights are well executed as you would expect from a director like Zack who is known for his love of stylized action sequences. I was looking forward to mass Zombie executions in slow motion but possibly due to recent criticisms /teasing about his excessive use of SloMo, there is nowhere near as much as you would expect in a Snyder film which is a shame as it is his trademark.
Apart from that, there were headshots galore, with hardly any bullet wasted on pointless body shots. Over the years, movie goers have learnt the basics of Zombie killing from films such as Zombieland, but the audience haven’t seen Zombies like this before, which makes their evolution in this film even more interesting.
Zack Snyder films are also known for his use of highly stylized songs to score his scenes, in a similar vein to Quentin Tarantino. Most of the songs used here are Vegas themed and while entertaining, I don’t think they always worked as well as intended. Maybe some were too on the nose, but we got the point. Other than that, the sounds all work well and support the action portrayed on the screens perfectly, every bone break and bullet ricochet impact is just right.
Army of The Dead is much more than a Zombie film, it’s an amalgamation of several genres and attempts to tackle varied issue, some better than others. We have an immigrant camp just outside Vegas where the immigrants are mistreated and controlled with the threat of ‘legal execution’ looming if they step out of line. A government so detached it thinks it would be ‘cool’ to nuke one of its cities.
We have a father/daughter story with some deep abandonment issues and overall, we have a society who has lost its morality and to some extent its humanity. You could say the humans are regressing back to a more savage state while the Zombies are evolving towards becoming an organised society.
I really enjoyed Army of The Dead, to say it’s one of my top three Zombie movies would not be an exaggeration. I like the fact Zack is attempting to evolve the genre and maybe take it to a few unfamiliar places. But I am also concerned about where that ends up. If Zombies become people or even civilized, then we can no longer laugh and cheer at how they are massacred.
After we stopped fighting the Nazi’s, Russians and Arabian people in action movies, Zombies were the last ones left we were allowed to kill without conscious. Taking an even broader perspective, I had to consider where Zack Snyder’s evolution ends up and I saw hints of movies like Avatar and Planet of the Apes in this film.
The humans invade the territory of ‘monsters’ to attain resources from their land (in this case money) and are willing to slaughter the natives to achieve it. This quarantined area is basically a Zombie City and a place the infected have made home. Thinking along these lines took away some of my enjoyment of the Zombie massacre but kudos to Zack for creating a Zombie film that can make me think about the infected differently for the first time.
Army of the Dead Review
For a Zombie movie, it doesn’t break any new ground, but it does introduce a few new interesting elements. We have the introduction of smart or evolving Zombies to consider. Secondly, we normally have people trying to get away from the Zombies with their focus being on survival. Here the focus is on money and getting rich quick with the team going into the area knowing there are Zombies there. It’s simple but why over complicate the story unnecessarily if you don’t have to? I liked it
The variety of characters are great. Somehow even without a ridiculously long run time, you have a good idea of who the characters are and what their stakes are in the mission. Zack doesn’t settle for caricatures or stereotypes and presents a bunch of characters that we can route for (or against) even though we don’t know them that well. We can tell there is weight and real pain behind their scars.
The Heist itself wasn’t that complicated but the Zombies spiced it up a treat. We have fast Zombies, slow Zombies, Zombies that can fight and take part in hand-to-hand combat and dumb Zombies that will walk themselves down the barrel of a gun. We even have a Zombie tiger that was featured heavily in the trailers and definitely got its moment to shine. The variety is excellent, and you never know which one you’re going to get. Thank God they haven’t learnt to fire guns-yet!
I really enjoyed Army of The Dead, to say it’s one of my top three Zombie movies would not be an exaggeration. I like the fact Zack is attempting to evolve the genre and maybe take it to a few unfamiliar places. It has a great energy to it and interesting characters and is definitely one to watch for all fans of the genre or just those looking for a different kind of heist movie.
Army of The Dead is available now on Netflix. See the Official Trailer here