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Army of the Dead [Video Review]

Undead Again: Snyder’s Zest for Zombies Revisited in Fun, Derivative Ensemble

Zack Snyder Army of the Dead ReviewDirector 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.

A compromised military transport unleashes a deadly zombie pandemic upon Las Vegas, though fast action contains the outbreak to the deadly metropolis, razed to a quarantine zone. The survivors are relegated to menial existences in outlying towns, shellshocked by the trauma they experienced, including Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), now flipping burgers and watching the emotional estrangement widen with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who witnessed him kill her mother after infection. But casino magnate Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches Scott with a proposal – two-hundred-million dollars are being kept in a vault beneath the Vegas Strip, money he’s already been paid out for via insurance. If Scott can put together a team, they can split the profits. Hiring a pilot (Tig Notaro) and a safe cracker (Matthias Schweighofer) and rounding out his crew with notable comrades, including Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and Guz (Raul Castillo), who brings along his own back-up, they set out to face off with the remaining members of the undead, some of whom have metamorphosed into smart, organized killing machines. And, oh yeah, they must get in and out of the military zone before the president nukes Las Vegas.

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.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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