Zack Snyder’s zombie movie is a complete mouthful
God bless him, “The Army of the Dead” is honest. The inciting incident in the first 10 minutes of Zack Snyder’s new zombie flick involves a military convoy crash caused by a sex act on the road. The Liberace impersonator being devoured alive by zombie showgirls in the next 10 minutes feels perfectly explainable when it’s the first move on the chessboard.
Every generation of students needs the movie that will live on their dormitory wall as a poster. I can easily see “Army of the Dead” – a gonzo-style mashup that manages to keep a brain in its head unlike so many of its titular shamblers – taped to a stack of beer cans. The film is a throwback to fertile undead land for Snyder, most recently a hero of the nerds authorized for HBO Max’s release of its director’s cut of “Justice League,” after much weird online harassment. Remember, Snyder’s 2004 remake “Dawn of the Dead” was a touchstone of the new millennium for horror fans, a blunt and cheeky take on the rigorous midnight movie tropes.
“Army of the Dead,” in theaters now and streaming on Netflix on May 21, is the demon baby of these two Snyder projects: both deeply committed to the art of flesh-eating and a little bloated.
After that opening scene mentioned above, “Army of the Dead” efficiently and elegantly gives us the truth through the sacred art of editing. Wouldn’t you know, that convoy had a killer zombie on board, and wouldn’t you know too, he was one of the smart predators. Much like in “Dawn of the Dead,” the strains of a salon singer support a collage of carnage, as hordes of infected monsters invade Las Vegas. Bachelorette parties fall into the hands of the soulless, and let’s say the casinos should have bet on red.
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In the process, the government demarcates Las Vegas, letting the zombies rule the joint. Scott (Dave Bautista; tall) was a hero who stood up for the living when the going went, but after the zombie invasion he was a short-lived cook in a desert restaurant. Shady casino mogul (Hiroyuki Sanada) walks up with an offer: assemble a team and infiltrate the ruins of Las Vegas to spurt a vault full of money under one of its buildings, then get a share of the moolah .
The usual ‘get the gang together’ sequence is a hoot. Among the misfits are Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a soldier with the mindset of a drummer; Maria (Ana de la Reguera), friend and lieutenant of Scott whose personality is “mechanic”; Lily (Nora Arnezeder), a relentless French mercenary who brings smuggled refugees back to Vegas; Marianne (Tig Notaro), helicopter pilot who is Tig Notaro; Ludwig (Matthias Schweighöfer), a genius delight from an excitable German safecracker; and Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a thrill-seeking vlogger who shoots zombies in the head for views.
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Also in attendance is Kate (Ella Purnell), Scott’s estranged daughter, who volunteers as an assistant in the refugee camps bordering the hot zone. With attached gas cans and flaming guns, they enter a Sin City where even the devil would likely cash in early.
And – aaaaaand – I didn’t even mention several plot threads. The plight of the fenced refugees is told through TV clips and the quest of a woman named Geeta (Huma Qureshi) who sneaks into Las Vegas. Snyder presumably is trying to work with topical meat, and brother, it’s like your little brother is playing with Tonka trucks, and every 30 minutes he says something vague about fossil fuels and then gets back on his feet. crush big toy platforms together. Calling the film’s politics murky would imply that they started out clearly.
Too short of a straw in this production also goes to the zombie society that took root where the Blue Man group once roamed the land. Zombie company! There is simply no more room. Sorry, zombies.
Snyder, who invented the story and co-wrote the screenplay, creates some truly compelling characters amid the cacophony. Bautista (still tall) has grown into an irresistible sci-fi action hero, from the dry alien spirit of Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy” to the silent force and tiny glasses of Sapper Morton in “Blade Runner 2049” to the imposing darling Scott in “Army of the Dead”. His big horns with a heart of gold also have a palpable dignity that carries the movie he’s in.
Schweighöfer and Castillo are the other ‘Army of the Dead’ MVPs, each occupying their own flamboyant niche with the right touch of camp. And Notaro must have his flowers; the deadpan comedian was cast in green in the film after the previous actor in the role, Chris D’Elia, was accused of sexually exploiting teenage girls. There is not a detached note in his performance. Viva Las Vegas? Viva Tig Notaro, action hero.
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Okay, gender math: we have zombies, heists, action, western themes, family dramas, social commentary, and of course, comedy. Did you expect less than the kitchen sink after the Liberace thing? “Army of the Dead” loves the movie it is, and for that, it’s easy to enjoy it without a second thought. If you have that second thought, you might weigh how well Snyder performs all the moves he’s trying to pull off. It only tilts for success – the zombie-heist-western action works, and the family-friendly comedy-drama can’t quite keep up. (The social commentary didn’t even arrive on time at the bus.)
But hey, blockbusters are coming back after a year of a gloomy pandemic, and for that, let’s praise all the scale and volume we can get. “Army of the Dead” won’t be entering the Criterion collection anytime soon, but it’s not stupid either.
And whether it’s the walking dead or the fanboys bullying movie studios, you’ve got to hand it over to Snyder. He knows a thing or two about harnessing a horde to achieve a vision.
‘Army of the Dead’
To note: B-
With: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Matthias Schweighöfer
Director: Zack Snyder
Note: R for sexual content, blood, language everywhere, graphic nudity and strong bloody violence
Execution time: 2 hours, 28 minutes
Watch: Now in theaters and streaming on Netflix on May 21