It’s nice to see Zack Snyder go back to his zombie roots. The last time he played in that sandpit was Dawn of the Dead (2004).
With Army of the Dead (2021) the concept is this: Las Vegas falls to zombies and so humans wall it off and plan to nuke the city (as this seems to be the main way America deals with its problems). With the nuke hitting in a few days a team of mercs led by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) plan to infiltrate the city to steal millions of dollars left behind in one of the casinos.
So Ocean’s Eleven (2001) meets World War Z (2013), right? Well, sort of, but either way sign me up. Synder said in an interview that he couldn’t believe that no one had done Vegas and zombies before, and I agree. Yet, in some ways, I wish a director with more invention had taken this on – but we’ll get to that.
Much like Watchmen (2009) this movie has an impressive pre-credits sequence which plays out like a mini movie itself. It comes complete with Liberace, Elvis, stacks of zombies, mindless Vegas tourists, zombies on fire, you name it. It also introduces us to our brave band of bad asses that’ll go on the heist. Plus it’s scored to Viva, Las Vegas. This playful and irreverent tone reminded me of Kick-Ass (2010), and it’s what I’d ideally like to see more of from Snyder (especially after the dark dirge that was his DC period).
As you can imagine, most of the mercs that head into Vegas are unlikely to come out again. The question is, which ones will survive. There’s your zombie roulette drinking game right there. For me, the main issue I have with this movie is that I didn’t hugely care about the characters. You want the humans to live, right? Well… some of them. In Shaun of the Dead (2004) you care about Shaun. Despite this being a comedy the scene where his mum dies is heartbreaking. In The Walking Dead (2010-2022) you care about Rick Grimes and his family. Perhaps it’s because the script is good (at least far better than Army Of The Dead), and both Andrew Lincoln and Simon Pegg are good actors. Unfortunately Dave Bautista is less so. He’s not terrible, but he’s not on their level. 28 Days Later (2002) had Cillian Murphy and whilst The Girl With All The Gifts (2016) had a young unknown actor in the lead role, she was propped up by Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine. Basically, you get where I’m going with this.
Thinking on the script… a lot can be done with zombies in Vegas. Liberace and Elvis impersonators get introduced at the start then never seen again. You could have a lot of fun with comparing zombies to the mindless hordes that descend upon Vegas. I expected to see a zombie playing the slot machines, for instance, but I never did. After the opening sequence I felt like they could have set the movie anywhere, and it would have made very little difference. Well, other than the fact that Snyder quite heavily stole the casino heist scene from Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, there were a few wrinkles, but it wasn’t far enough.
Perhaps I am expecting too much of Snyder. I’d say Watchmen was a four star film (out of five), but other than that, he’s largely a three star director. 300 (2006) might scrape four stars, but I cannot say that about any of his other movies. I have to remember that Shaun of the Dead had Edgar Wright and 28 Days Later had Danny Boyle – two of the finest directors working today.
The other final point I’d like to make is that someone is giving Snyder far too much freedom. I mean, who allows a director to return to a movie and cut a version that’s OVER FOUR HOURS LONG! (Justice League). Oh yeah, Warner Brothers.
Army Of The Dead clocks in at 2 hours 28 minutes… for a zombie movie? What the hell! Action movies should be tight, horror should be tight, comedy should be tight – all of them should aim for the 90 minute mark. Anything more and you begin to lose the tension. To me this suggests a lazy storyteller who has forgotten how to tell a tight story where we care about the characters. My hope is Synder tightens up and goes back to basics and finds his feet. I mean, I’m not saying that this is a bad movie, but it’s a three star one – but maybe that’s all Snyder will ever be.