Some filmmakers have built their entire careers around delivering on what audiences expect from them. If you go to see a Hitchcock film, you’re going to get a murder mystery thriller. If you go see a Coen Brother film, you’re going to get a quirky black comedy. And if you see a Zack Snyder film, you’re going to see a lot of action and style and very little substance.
From when he burst onto the scene in 2004 with his “Dawn of the Dead” remake to all the comic book movies he’s directed or produced since, Snyder’s primary objective seems to be making things look really cool and not much else. But as long as people keep paying, he’s not going to fix it.
That trend continues with “Army of the Dead,” a new zombie flick not part of any pre-existing series but certainly pays homage or parody to many of them while turning things up to 11. Whether it’s the tragedy his family experienced a few years ago or the stressful expectations of going back to finish his “Justice League” movie, Snyder put everything he had into this one.
Not only is Snyder the director, co-producer and co-writer as with most of his films but also the cinematographer, and I think if he put more of his attention into only one other role besides director, this probably would have been a more coherent and all around better movie. But by letting him do what he does best, “Army of the Dead” is a zombie/heist action movie that is as enjoyable as your brain allows it to be.
Several years following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas that was sectioned off by the government, former zombie war hero Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by casino boss to break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours.
Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. After bringing together a ragtag group of specialists, Kate informs Scott that she is going too, whether he likes it or not.
Upon arriving in Vegas, the group realizes the mission is not as simple as it seemed. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing's for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.
Part of Snyder’s affinity for stylish and over-the-top action is the amount of violence he can get away with on screen. Zombie movies and action movies are already pretty graphic, but combining them in a Snyder production pushes it far beyond normalcy. If you aren’t a big fan of cinematic blood and guts, give this one a pass. Otherwise, the artistry is kind of beautiful and the creativity with how the zombies are taken out is entertaining.
While the script itself is unimpressive and no deeper than a kiddie pool, the basic idea is intriguing and allows for some cool scenes. “Dawn of the Dead” meets “Ocean’s 11” is something you’d never think to combine, but they get away with it here because the heist team is made up of fun and unique characters who get to play in the zombie-infested Vegas.
As the runtime goes on, it’s no surprise that much of the team is disposable and really only here for some deadly zombie action. However, the central emotional throughline between Butista’s character and his daughter adds some weight and stakes to the situation, even if it’s corny.
This is Snyder’s celebration of the zombie genre as a whole here, so it was fun seeing all the different types of zombies over the decades make an appearance, from slow, dumb ones to the fast, overpowered ones to really smart ones who have become the leaders of this little zombie world. Seeing the inner workings of their own society and social structure is something you don’t usually get in dumb action movies.
And to make it perfectly clear: this is a dumb action movie. The characters are one dimensional, the violence and explosions and slow-motion shots are over-the-top and there is no substance to the story or morals or themes. Thankfully, it’s a dumb that knows its dumb and a lot of fun.