Army of the Dead Review: Las Vegas, Zombie Tiger & Batista, Oh My

What do you get when you mix Ocean’s 11, World War Z, Call of Duty Zombies and sprinkle in a little I Am Legend? You get Army of the Dead, directed by Zack Snyder, starring Dave Bautista (and a host of others) and currently streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters.

Zack Snyder is an enigma. He’s an extremely polarizing director. He has an incredible sense of visuals, all of his movies are stunning to look at, and he’s terrific at directing action but he always gets bogged down by his worst excesses. He uses far too much slow motion to try and make his cool action even cooler, he always throws in odd song choices where they don’t really fit, and he doesn’t seem to like putting anything on the cutting room floor; his movies are long. He also always treats his movies far more seriously than they should be treated, being proud of your work is great but a movie that really isn’t anything more than a big dumb popcorn movie shouldn’t present itself like it’s a Kubrick film even if you’re proud of it.

Well with Army of the Dead, he still does all of those things but he actually reigns himself in so while the film still features all the expected Snyderism, it never gets to the point where Snyder’s usual excess overpowers what the movie actual is. Really dumb fun.

Army of the Dead doesn’t take place in the same universe as Dawn of the Dead. It exists on its own, ready to be its own franchise. In this universe, an escaped Area 51 creature spreads the zombie virus which kicks off a war between the living and the undead. The living win but Las Vegas is lost to the zombies and walled off Escape from New York style. The story follows Bautista’s Scott Ward, a veteran of the Zombie Wars who gets hired by a mysterious rich guy to go into Vegas and obtain the half a billion dollars that is in a vault in one of the casinos.

A Zombie Elvis Impersonator

This movie begins with one of the best opening credits you will ever see. It’s absolutely incredible, showing off highlights of the Zombie War in a glorious cacophony of colorful chaos. You’ll see explosions of blood, guts, bullets, and bombs as a cover of Viva Las Vegas plays in the background, sounding like it was sung by one of the dozen Elvis impersonators that inhabit Sin City. It’s the best opening to a movie since the original Zombieland. It could be its own short film.

From there the movie takes its time to introduce all the characters and set them up. They don’t actually enter the zombie-infested city until about an hour in. Which is fine because that hour is spent making sure you know everyone and like them so the inevitable demise of some of them has the intended effect. The Ocean’s 11 style recruiting of the heist team is also one of the most fun portions of the film and shows off one of it’s most surprising aspects. It’s pretty funny. No, it’s not a comedy but some humor to provide some levity never hurts and here it all mostly hits and never drastically shifts the tone. It actually makes the characters more likable because they can laugh at themselves and find humor in their situation.

Once they enter Vegas is where Snyder shows off what has always been his best quality. His ability to direct action. The action in this movie is terrific. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s shot clearly and it’s most importantly, entertaining and fun. There are different types of zombies that give our misfit band of heroes a tough time. There are the classic, slow-shambling zombies, there are 28 Days later style fast running zombies and then there are the main baddies, the Alphas, who are evolved zombies that control the rest of the horde. Think of the leader of the mutants in I Am Legend and that’s what they are. There’s even a Zombie Tiger and if that doesn’t make you want to watch this, I don’t think anything will. Seeing the gang fight through different Vegas against zombies that have different characteristics and present their own unique challenges couldn’t help but make me feel like I was watching a live-action version of Call of Duty Zombies or Left 4 Dead, and I mean that in the best way possible. On top of that, the zombies actually have proper lore behind them and it’s very interesting, Snyder could have just made a film about that and it would have been just as good, maybe better. This is already a planned franchise with a prequel and animated series on the way so I hope that gets explored more.

The cast are all great but the two stand-outs are Dave Bautista and Tig Notaro. Bautista is in my opinion the best wrestler turned actor. John Cena is great at action/comedy and I love The Rock as much as anyone but he’s Schwarzenegger whereas Bautista is Bruce Willis. Yes, he can be an action star but the man can act. He has range, he can do comedy, he can kick ass but he can also be subtle, he can do drama. He’s a true character actor. He injects real emotion into Scott so that he isn’t just the muscle-bound leader of this squad, he’s a human being who’s struggling to connect with his estranged daughter and he conveys as much in his mannerisms as he does in the dialogue. Notaro meanwhile plays the fast-talking helicopter pilot Peters. The role was originally played by comedian Chris D’Elia but he was removed after he was accused (with pretty good evidence) of sexually harassing underage girls. She’s incredibly funny and delivers her lines so well that it’s hard to believe that she wasn’t who this part was written for in the first place. She shot all her parts on a green screen which can sometimes be noticeable but under the circumstances, I’ll let it slide.

A Zombie Tiger
Did I Mention There’s a Zombie Tiger

As much as I had fun watching it, the movie isn’t without its faults. It still falls victim to Snyder’s worst tendencies. It’s 2 and a half hours and while that’s much shorter than his cut of Justice League, it does feel like it could have been cut down to be closer to 2 hours. There are a lot of scenes that linger past their natural endpoint that could easily have been cut for the sake of brevity. At one point a character says that Vegas is going to be nuked in 9 minutes and the movie goes on for another half hour. For as fun as it is, Snyder still throws in some self-serious moments to make it seem like the film is deeper than it is. This movie has a zombie tiger in it for goodness sake.

The story itself is also fairly standard and it mostly adheres to the well-worn clichés of both the zombie genre and the heist genre. To be fair it handles the clichés very well and I’ve always been of the mind that if you’re going it do a cliché, do it well and Snyder does. Clichés are clichés for a reason because they work and while they don’t hinder this movie for me, it would have been nice if there was a little more deviation from the standard than there is.

Overall though, I would say your mileage on Army of the Dead will rest on your tolerance for dumb fun. If you don’t mind a movie that just lets you turn your brain off and be entertained by some cool-looking action and zombie gore, then you’re probably going to like this. If you’re a Snyder fan, you’re going to like this. Even if you’re not a Snyder fan, you might like this. I’ve never been a big fan of his work, but Army of the Dead is definitely more of a hit than a miss to me. Also, just in case you haven’t processed it properly yet, there’s a zombie tiger.

Rating: Got Halfway to Paddington and Stopped to Eat Some Brains

We rate things on a scale based on how close something is in quality to Paddington 2. To learn more please read this post

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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