Army of the Dead [Video Review]
Undead Again: Snyder’s Zest for Zombies Revisited in Fun, Derivative Ensemble
Director Zack Snyder moves beyond the superhero universe following his anticipated enhancement of the compromised 2017’s Justice League (with this year’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League) and back to zombie territory with Army of the Dead. Snyder’s directorial debut was the 2004 remake of the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead, and it appears he’s spurred his own new franchise (an anime series and prequel are already future parts of this universe).
While it appears to be the most fun Snyder’s had in some time with this action eye-candy, it’s a familiar approach, cobbling together ensemble and narrative choices from a wide variety of films leaning quite often into derivative territory. Considering the last-minute tinkering (Tig Notaro infamously replaced Chris D’Elia in post-production), it’s an enjoyable, if overly long saga with a built-in fanbase.
Too many parallels with Aliens (1986) tend to distract, including an admirable attempt to build characterization amongst supporting characters, plus bits of dialogue and various narrative strides (like enhancing the capabilities of the supernatural foes with their own culture and reproductive inklings), and make Army of the Dead feel more like copycat than homage. The strangeness of the alpha zombies, which includes making them not only fertile but bizarrely physically appealing, begs for an explanation Snyder’s narrative (co-written by Joby Harold and Shay Hatten) is unwilling or unable to provide. And so, we’re mainly left to enjoy the varying interactions of the cast, who like the team in Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula (2020) are motivated purely by potential economic windfall. Inside-man Garret Dillahunt and pilot Tig Notaro feel a bit left to their own devices, and
Bautista’s heavily mined trauma with daughter Ella Purnell paints their characterizations into a corner. Raul Castillo, as in the recent Wrath of Man, is more a cog in the ensemble, while Omari Hardwick and Matthias Schweighofer (who directs the upcoming prequel, Army of Thieves) experience a bit more growth and camaraderie. A wanly attenuated romantic potential between Bautista and Anna de la Reguera could have used a bit more finesse, but such observations are splitting hairs in a film preoccupied with a bigger picture.
For fans of Snyder’s particular brand of spectacle, Army of the Dead should certainly satisfy even though the film may play it safe and with familiar parameters. An energetic romp unafraid to feel grisly without wholly depending on comedy, it plays like a reprieve for Snyder, shrugging off the weight of expectation for something purely entertaining. Serving as his own cinematographer, it’s a glitzy Las Vegas apocalypse, like Ocean’s 11 besotted by zombies, with a James Gunn-style reverence for golden oldies, including everything from Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” to intriguing covers of “Viva Las Vegas,” “Bad Moon Rising,” with even an inspired dash of The Raveonettes.