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Army of the Dead (2021) - Movie Review

Army of the Dead (2021) - Movie Review
8 10

PLOT: A zombie outbreak in Las Vegas causes the US government to wall off the city with the eventual plan of nuking the it. Before Vegas become dust, a group of rag-tag mercenaries plans the ultimate heist.

LOWDOWN: The year 2021 has been kind to Zack Snyder, and the guy deserves it. After the sh*tshow that was Justice League 2017, having the Snyder cut actually get released while receiving universal praise as the superior version is gratifying. The director came out of the gate swinging with Army Of The Dead, "I didn't have to fight Netflix. There are no other cuts of this movie. You don't have to see a bastardized version; you get to see the awesome version first." Now, how does Army Of The Dead hold up? Like a well-made Long Island iced tea, my friend. It's full of a bunch of sh*t that shouldn't gel together yet balances out surprisingly well. Drink up, folks. This is a wild ride that is worth the trip. And there may be a few minor spoilers ahead, so be warned!

Set not too long after an accidental containment breach caused a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, the city is now officially walled off. The government has decided that a mini-nuke be the best option, thus creating a ticking clock for enigmatic millionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). His fortune is stuck in a hotel vault on the strip and needs a highly skilled team to retrieve it without being eaten alive. Snyder works best when unconstrained and, I think streaming may be the best output for his work. Army Of The Dead is a brash, high-octane, bright-colored zombie epic that is as free as I've ever seen him. His last outing in the genre was the great Dawn Of The Dead remake, and coming back into the world of zombies is a welcomed return. Starting off with what may be his best opening, or at least it gives Watchmen a run for its money. We see Vegas fall and its eventual containment with stylish slow-motion. The opening hooks you in with a catchy rendition of Viva Las Vegas. Equal parts entertaining and depressing, Army Of The Dead gives you all of the needed information promptly and most stylishly.

Once Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is propositioned for the typical "one last job," he pulls a Joliet Jake and gets his old band back together. The cast pops, with Bautista taking the lead as Scott Ward, a mercenary whose team helped save lives in the Vegas containment, now works as a short-order cook living paycheck to paycheck. Bautista has stepped up his game. If there is an MVP here, it's him. Playing Scott more toned down and empathetic, he doesn't play the typical hotheaded military character and owns it with his quiet demeanor. Ludwig Dieter(Matthias Schweighöfer) will be a fan favorite as the german comedic relief who can crack any safe but may not be the best against a physical adversary. While Wards' estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) is heading inside with him because her friend went in for a quick ransack mission and never came back out. Purnell is sorta the heart here and holds her own against a cast of scene-stealers.

Though the heist may be the driving story beat, Snyder wisely focuses on the relationship between Ward and his daughter Kate. She became a volunteer after the Vegas survivors became American refugees with nowhere to go and has first-hand knowledge of how to get in undetected. Army Of The Dead has more heart than expected and slows down at times to let these smaller moments bloom. I'm all about allowing characters to breathe, and with this at a hefty two and a half hours, Snyder doesn't shortchange his characters. On the flip side, things go epic with the action and the carnage. This flick feels truly grand with many inventive shots and grand Vegas set pieces. It uses the strip to its full advantage. We get many wide shots letting us feel like we're in Las Vegas and not a patch of concrete backed by a green screen. Not saying it isn't, but this is the most theatrical Netflix movie I've ever experienced.

Army Of The Dead makes the stale zombie trend exciting again. Doing what Romero couldn't quite nail in Land Of The Dead, we get intelligent zombies with a rigid hierarchy and some basic ground rules. This could have gone stupid really f*cking quick yet is done in a way where it raises the stakes and makes the heist a bit more thrilling. The action is intense, and the gore is over-the-top in the best possible way. Though I'm not one to bitch about dark and grim color grading, I did enjoy seeing blood and guts in a warm and bright desert setting. 

There are a couple of issues that dragged this down a tad for me. I'm glad that the character development has the time needed to feel organic, but a few dumb choices almost seem included to pad the runtime. Not that they should have cut it out, but the "why" behind a few of these decisions was clunky and clichéd. Chris D'Elia ended up being a creep and needed to be replaced. In terms of movie magic, the inclusion of Tig Notaro is seamless and impressive, but she is totally miscast. The delivery is awkward and stilted, which brought more attention to the fact that she was green-screened in. This role just wasn't the right fit, and in my opinion, was the one weak link in the cast.

GORE: We get glorious blood sprays and some gnarly zombie flesh.

BOTTOM LINE: Though there are a few minor issues, Army Of The Dead is Zack Snyder at his most confident. The action is big, the sets are bigger, and he lets loose while having the time of his life. Army Of The Dead is a sun-soaked bloodbath and an absolute blast that kept me smiling the whole time. Between Blade Runner 2049 and this, Bautista may be the next Schwarzenegger or Stallone and is one to keep an eye on. Fix yourself a strong drink, pop on Netflix, and give this bad boy a watch. Army Of The Dead is exactly what I wanted it to be, a bombastic time that can deliver the action along with a touch of soul. This is Snyder at his best.

Army of The Dead will be released in theaters on May 14th and on Netflix on May 21st, 2021.

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