Movie Review: ‘Army of the Dead’
Plot: After an accident involving a military transport unwittingly releases a genetically engineered zombie creature, nearby Las Vegas is overrun. After considerable effort, the United States government in conjunction with the military are able to wall off Vegas completely, before making the decision to nuke the entire city. Shortly before Las Vegas is set to become a charred wasteland, billionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) with a tempting offer. If Ward and his compatriots can break into Vegas and reclaim $200 million in cash in a vault beneath Tanaka’s casino, they can split $50 million. With the help of ex-military friends Maria (Ana de la Reguera), Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), German safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), and a host of others, Scott decides to take the job. However, after venturing into Vegas alongside Scott’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) and Coyote Lily (Nora Arnezeder), the band of mercenaries get more than the bargained for. With time running out, Scott and his cohorts will have to face threats from within and without if they want to get out of Vegas alive.
After witnessing one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen just over a month ago, and riding high on the success of his Justice League director’s cut, I was beyond psyched for Zack Synder’s Army of the Dead. The cast looked stellar, the premise intriguing, and how can you go wrong with Dave Bautista in the lead? This looked to be a return to Zack Snyder’s roots with his remake of Dawn of the Dead high on my list for one of the best remakes of all time.
Sadly, Army of the Dead not only never lives up to the hype but fails miserably on virtually every cinematic level. Overly long and sporting stilted dialogue with barely any character development, Dead contains all the intrigue and depth of a zombie fart. I’m all for mindless entertainment where you check your brain at the door and just sit back and enjoy the ride. (Armageddon will forever remain a guilty pleasure). However, if I’m going to do that, I expect the rollercoaster to actually pique my interest and entertain me. Instead, Army of the Dead never even leaves the birth cradle.
The biggest failure of Army of the Dead lies in its script. I consider Zack Snyder to be a very good director and at best an adequate writer. This script does not even rise to the level of adequate. Alongside co-screenwriters Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, the trio take an intriguing premise – a band of mercenaries must steal $200 million from a zombie infested Las Vegas – and completely shoot it with a bazooka. The dialogue is absolutely atrocious with a serious conversation at one point between Ludwig, Scott, and Maria about if dropping a rock on a zombie’s head will kill it. The character development is non-existent apart from Bautista’s Scott Ward. Everyone from sharpshooter Mikey Guzman (Raul Castillo) to helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro) feels two dimensional with the depth of decorative garden well.
Absolutely nothing feels earned in Army of the Dead, with the film lacking sufficient cohesiveness and stability. The strained relationship between Kate and Scott needed much more fleshing out and the backstory involving his ex-wife lacks explanation and makes zero sense. There’s also a huge reveal from Maria that comes out of nowhere and feels trite and haphazard. Yes, I understand that this is a zombie movie not Spotlight. However, you can’t expect an audience to suspend their disbelief and invest in a film if you’re too lazy to cogently provide valid plot structure.
However, what is most egregious and insulting is how much Army of the Dead rips off James Cameron’s Aliens. Garret Dillahunt’s Martin is clearly a Carter Burke-like character who is actually there to a get a zombie sample so Tanaka can weaponize and bioengineer the creatures for the military. At one point Guzman blows himself up ala Gorman and Vasquez. The final act of the film involves Scott and Kate going back for Kate’s friend Geeta, essentially re-enacting the sequence where Ripley goes back for Newt. Hell, even Marianne Peters temporarily leaves Scott and the gang behind before circling back with her chopper, ala Bishop. Snyder couldn’t be more obvious if he had Vanderohe say “How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?” It’s one thing to take inspiration from a previous film but it’s quite another to plagiarize it outright.
Moreover, Army of the Dead overstays its welcome by at least a half an hour. At almost two and a half hours, Snyder manages to fill a lot of time with basically nothing. I get that Snyder likes to go large and epic but I wish editor Dody Dorn had cracked the whip a little more. Cutting this film down to a sleek 90 minutes might have saved this movie. It certainly would have helped Snyder who serves as his own DP on this film, much to its detriment. The cinematography boasts constant closeups with the background being slightly hazy and unfocused. While meant to be edgy and enticing, it comes off repetitive and annoying.
This isn’t to say Army of the Dead is a complete corpse. Once again Bautista shines even with the limited resources afforded him. There’s some truly gut-wrenching scenes – particularly one with his ex-wife – that demonstrate the toll past trauma has taken on Scott. Bautista brings a soulfulness and tenderness to the role that would have been far better served in a superior film. His chemistry with Purnell’s Kate works surprisingly well. Snyder also continues his mastery of music in his film with covers of CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” by Theo Gilmore, The Doors’ “The End” by The Ravonettes, and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” by Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe being particular memorable.
However, there’s not enough inspired musical choices or gravitas from Dave Bautista to save this film from being dead on arrival.
My rating System:
1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Army of the Dead rates: 3/10