Written by: Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Joby Harold
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi
The portrayal of zombies across different media has transformed in various ways, from the simple slow ones looking for brains to the quick and agile monsters who pose a very large threat. No matter their depiction, their existence often lays the foundation for an intriguing look as to how humans react around them, and in the case of Army of the Dead, yes, humans still very much do what it takes to make money.
Following a zombie outbreak leading the United States to lock down Las Vegas, the city only contains these monstrous but smart creatures. With Vegas shut down, casino owner, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) offers Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) and a crew of his choosing the opportunity to receive a large cut of money should they retrieve a robust sum hidden in one of his buildings. Ward sets out to assemble his crew knowing the grave danger awaiting them in Sin City.
It comes as no surprise that humans would use the opportunity of a zombie outbreak to make money, which happens on a smaller scale along the border but then with this massive heist, which will require plenty of preparation and guts from Ward and his team. This merges Army of the Dead into quite the medley of genres from the inherent horror of zombies, action, and with the added heist element. Add in a wonderful ensemble of colorful characters and it makes for quite the entertaining feature providing pretty much all you could want from a film merging all of these elements.
Different zombie flicks have tried to differentiate their undead creatures, but his film makes them smarter and more human-like than what has been made before. As the crew enters Las Vegas, they learn more about how these zombies not only move quicker, but they follow a king and queen zombie, who essentially call the shots. In order to have safe passage, these zombies can be bartered with, typically sacrificing a human life as demonstrated by the coyote, Lilly (Nora Arnezeder). It raises some questions about how these zombies operate, which certainly add an extra wrinkle to their heist. Certainly, an intriguing look, which makes things much more difficult when the excrement hits the fan.
Working as an ensemble feature, Dave Bautista serves as the lead and definitely does very well with the limitations of the character. He has the emotional pull of the film as we receive much more of his backstory. The other characters serve as the fun element as well as sacrificial lambs for the story as we get to see the viciousness of these zombies. They make for quite an entertaining crew with each of them bringing something unique to the team and adding their own element to how the team will either succeed or fail. Plenty of distrust exists, especially when Tanaka has one of his guys accompany the team, but when it becomes about humans versus zombies, not much time exists for petty disagreements.
With a relatively strong ensemble, the film’s biggest drawback comes with the inclusion of Ward’s daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell). A broken relationship exists between them for reasons not made clear until nearer the climax, having her in this story certainly has a purpose, but it mostly distracts from everything else happening. With her working on the Las Vegas border, which certainly serves as an allegory for the United States-Mexico border, she works with families in desperate circumstances. The reason leading her to run with Ward’s crew differs from everyone else, as she goes in to search for a missing person and while noble, everything she does falls into the category of “stupid decisions in movies to just make things more difficult for everyone else.” This could be telegraphed from a mile away, but it just distracts from everything else in the story, contributes to a more bloated runtime, and of course, just makes everyone’s life more difficult. Cutting this out may have missed out on some of the emotional components of Ward’s character development but no one entered this story looking for that. Especially when you consider how this particular story ends, everything involving Kate just feels pointless.
Transitioning fully from superhero fare, Zack Snyder jumps back into the zombie genre and does a fairly good job in crafting an engaging and fun story. Along with fellow screenwriters, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, they make some fun characters to follow and provide some gruesome kills to notice. It definitely shows why each of these characters was chosen for this heist with wonderful little moments interspersed between them. Perhaps, the film could have gone with a different cinematographer other than Snyder himself, as several scenes in the film did fall flat, but it comes together decently enough.
Army of the Dead will not convert anyone who already dislikes zombie flicks but for those who enjoy heists and the inclusion of the undead, it makes for such a fun and entertaining watch. It certainly has its glaring issues but it pretty much sets out what it wants to accomplish, which come from gruesome kills, comedic moments between the characters, and an intriguing look at how these zombies operate.