Zack Snyder has become somewhat of a well-known, well-named director. He’s been luckier than most (and more unfortunate than most at the same time). 2021 has proven to be the year of Snyder has his Justice League movie released to not only good reviews, but to big numbers as well. And with Army of the Dead being his next big franchise, many are wondering how it will turn out. This isn’t just a film he directed. He wrote it, produced it, and shot it himself. And with two prequels coming over the next two years, it’s clear Netflix is not only going all Snyder, but they’re going all in on this franchise as well. But the biggest question is is: is it worth it?
For the most part: Yes.
Army of the Dead isn’t as bombastic as 300 or as deep with religious allegories as Batman v. Superman or Man of Steel, but it is is one hell of a good time at the theater. Let’s get all the good out of the way first.
First off, the premise. Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, a retired vet turned mercenary who is hired by Hiroyuki Sanada’s Bly Tanaka to go into a zombie infested Vegas to get 200 million dollars from an underground vault before the U.S. government nukes the whole city. In order to infiltrate the city, he needs the help of a deeply skilled zombie-killing, safe cracking, money hungry team.
The story blends both common zombie-mythos with the tropes of a heist film. There are minor moments in the story that are predictable, but they are very easily forgiven. But what I believe this film does really well is make you interested in this world while also defying expectations as to what it is zombies are and what they can do. There are curve balls in the story that you never seen coming. I found myself with my mouth hanging open during many moments in the movie, and that is a good thing for about 90% of the time.
The zombies are also not only standard, but they are also incredibly unique. Yeh, I know, it sounds weird, but let me explain. We have multiple types of zombies in the movie. We have the standard shamblers that just kinda walk around and occasionally chomp of people. They can run or just walk — you know, mindless. Then you have the alphas. These guys are smarter, faster, and stronger. They can command the shamblers, take a lot more hits, and create more shamblers. Then you have Zeus: the leader of the zombies who is basically a god and create more alphas if he so chooses. He’s the smartest one and can command every single zombie, including animal zombies. That’s right, this movie has animal zombies and they’re awesome — for the most part. But then again, what’s zombies if you don’t have anyone to kill them. And speaking of killing them….
The action and visuals for this movie are top notch. TOP. NOTCH. I mean, what else would you expect from Zack Snyder. The opening sequence and credits are brutal, bloody, and gorgeous. It’s been a while since we’ve had a truly hard R action movie and Army of the Dead does not disappoint. At all. You have your insane, high octane action sequences like when Scott is running across tables shooting zombies left and right. You got your suspenseful action sequences, like when Chambers is stuck in a room with hibernating zombies and has to knife them to avoid detection. Yes, I know what I said. You aren’t watching this movie to be taught a lesson, you’re watching it for the action and it delivers.
Speaking of the visuals, this movie is gorgeous at times. There are a couple of times where the dream-lens got too much. Basically, this movie is shot almost entirely with a shallow depth of field. It’s not entirely distracting, but there are times when it got kind of annoying when you can’t see what’s going on. Not because it’s shaky, but because it’s too blurry. But other than that, gorgeous movie. There are a couple of sequences and shots that look like paintings put to film. I cannot understate how awesome the cinematography looks at times. And it’s not just the cinematography that’s colorful.
What Army of the Dead also has is a very colorful — if not somewhat paper-thin — cast of characters. Dave Bautista brings a lot to his performance as Scott Ward. It’s layered, it’s deep, and he shows a lot of range. He really is incredible in this film, and I hope this movie proves he can be just as good of an actor as he is an action star. Everyone else brings their A-game of course, but the biggest standouts for me would be Omari Hardwick’s Vanderohe, Tig Notaro’s Marianne Peters (we’ll get back to her), Samantha Wan’s Chambers, and the biggest standout Matthias Schweighofer’s Dieter. I won’t say much about him, but all I’ll say is that there’s a reason he’s getting his own prequel movie. But that being said, despite the fact that some of the characters don’t get much back story or even depth, they are still presented in such a way that you can’t help but care for them. Each of them gets a bad ass moment to shine and you want to see them succeed.
So let’s address the Tig situation. First off, she kicks so much ass. She gives off Sigourney Weaver vibes, and for those of you have have seen any Alien movie or even Avatar, you know how much of a compliment that is. Despite never actually being there during shooting she blends in and works so well with the rest of the cast. For those of you who don’t know, Tig Notaro’s role was originally meant for Chris D’Elia who shot all of his scenes with the rest of the cast. But his role was reshot when it came to light that he did some pretty unsavory things towards women — ALLEGEDLY, of course. So that being said, one of the downsides of the movie (if you are aware of the situation) is the pretty obvious ADR from the rest of the cast. There are moments when other characters are talking about her and they their mouths clearly say “he” but the words spoken are heard as “she.” It’s pretty noticeable. And there’s even one scene where she’s interacting with another character and he’s so clearly not looking at her but the other actor that was there. She was CGIed into the movie and with the exception of one or two shots, it is practically seamless. It’s actually hilarious how good the cg for this movie is, especially with how small the budget is when compared to other big budget movies.
And with that being said, we now need to address a couple of things. As I said before, this film is not perfect. There’s a lot of little things, as well as a couple big things that stop the film from being truly spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see this franchise continue, but I do feel that the issues seen need to be addressed.
The script isn’t as sharp as the visuals. There are bits of dialogue that don’t work and take you out of the movie at times. There are also story beats that don’t quite make sense or are just too predictable. Like, there are moments that can be seen from a mile away and when they happen you’re like “ah, there it is.” There’s also a side plot with Scott’s daughter and a friend of hers that always stops the movie dead and is just very uninteresting. This isn’t helped by the fact that this movie is two hours and thirty minutes long. Unlike his Justice League movie, there were times when I found myself checking my watch.
There are also a couple moments with characters that either don’t get resolved (which is fine, but it still would be better if there was a resolution) and then there’s a (SPOILER) character death that is so sudden and out of nowhere it’s actually stroke inducing. And yeah, speaking of that characters do die. Some of their deaths are handled well, others are NOT, and some are inbetween.
As I also mentioned prior, these zombies aren’t your traditional zombies. There are new and definitely bold things that have been done with the concept of zombies in this movie, and if you are a hardcore fan of the zombie genre, there is a very good chance you will either love these changes and new additions or you will despise them.
So with all that being said, how does the movie fair as a whole? What’s the verdict?
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Army of the Dead is not a perfect movie, but it is a damn good and fun one. Yeah, some of the characters are paper-thin, and there are some moments that flat out don’t work, but the movie overall works very well. It is one of the best zombie movies ever made, and with the universe and world that has been built, I want to see more. The ending here, while it does drag, it opens the possibility for something even bigger and greater. I’ll definitely be staying tuned for what comes next, because a franchise like this — a hardcore, R-Rated action franchise — is a dying breed these days. As long as Zack Snyder continues to give us something new and interesting, I’ll keep throwing money at him and whatever studio that continues to back him… Yes, I know what I said.