ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021)
YOU WILL BE WARNED BEFORE SPOILERS
Zack Snyder is legendary, yet still relatively young in his career. When you hear of a Zack Snyder film, you know you will be treated to craftily-built scenes, shots with both slo-mo and speed ramping, maybe even the occasional subject out of focus. He is known for his exciting, engaging style of filmmaking. Ned Kuczmynda on MovieBabble called his 300 (2007) “probably his most atmospherically brilliant.” I would agree, and even say, in most cases “atmospherically elegant.” His other films have also had a patina of dinginess, darkness and subtly stark brutality in line with each movie’s intended tone. On the utterly divisive side, his Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016) was considered a reckless hodgepodge by many (but one I actually liked more than most of my fellow fantasy fans).
Along with the flurry of zombie movies and TV/streaming which sprouted from the success of “The Walking Dead”, knowing Snyder was going to tackle this horror subgenre was both exciting news, and yet another sad Hollywood example of success begetting success, hooking the major studio mimeograph money machine up to a turbine engine, churning film after film with lockstep – dare I say zombie-like — predictability.
So here’s the setup. Las Vegas is closed off, a high barrier of shipping containers surrounds the city, and refugee camps line the outside of the zombie wall.
The plot is simple. The owner of one of the casinos has $ 200 million in cash in the main vault. He hires former mercenary Scott Ward (played by Dave Batista, Drax from the 2 [soon to be 3] Guardians of the Galaxy movies) to lead a team to the vault, and hopefully get out alive, able to keep and divvy up $ 50 million between them. Batista hires a crew, starting with a helicopter pilot, since there just so happens to be a helicopter on the roof of the casino, and others to help break the safe and defend the team. One of his team is former(?)/current(?) love interest Maria Cruz, played by the absolutely lovelylicious Ana de la Reguera.
Scott’s daughter also happens to be in on the exploitations, and typical daddy/daughter astrictions play themselves out (“I’m coming with you”, “No way in hell are you coming with me”…).
Army of the Dead does try to be different. Here, for one instance, there are 2 levels of zombies. We have the unthinking ghouls, who are somehow mostly stacked in neat piles so our team doesn’t have to walk on them, and then the alpha zombies, who have a society, caste system, love and pregnancy. Once the containers are breached and our team gets to journey inside the exclusion zone, one of the team mates, who had been inside the zone several times and is the official unofficial tour guide, mentions the neatly-stacked and desiccated zombie bodies. She notes they only come alive with rain. There’s one fucking terrifying missed opportunity. Who wouldn’t have loved to see that?
Other flaws include predictability, overworn tropes, a tittle of flat-falling humor chucked in for shits ‘n giggles, and a barely understandable love triangle between the former mother of Ward’s daughter and Cruz that is both confusing and with poorly defined characters. At the end, Ward’s daughter risks the team’s lives to rescue some members of the camp outside the container wall. So we expect them to be part of the ending. Instead, when the escape copter crashes, it’s only the pilot, Ward and his daughter. The other 2 people in the rescue helicopter are not shown, not even given a second thought, and no explanation for their absence is given.
Here, style wins over substance. I think of what AotD could have been.
My review? Kinda’ good, but nowhere near great.