Army of the Dead Review

Army of the Dead Review
8 10

Zack Snyder’s come a long way since he made his feature directorial debut with the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Boasting a script by a then-unknown James Gunn, the movie was a surprise hit, even winning over those who thought a remake of the George A. Romero classic was sacrilege. From there Snyder shot into the stratosphere with 300, Watchmen, and his dramatic detour into the DCEU. Zombies seemed to be in the rearview mirror for a while until, after a bad experience on Justice League, Snyder opted to work on something he’d have more creative control over. The result is his big-budget first film for Netflix, ARMY OF THE DEAD, a project he’s been attached to since way back in 2007. 

If the DC movies felt compromised, Army of the Dead is Snyder unleashed, with him not only directing but producing with his wife Deborah Snyder, co-writing and acting as his own DP. Arguably the most big-budget, epic take on a zombie apocalypse since World War Z, Snyder makes a triumphant return to the horror genre that should please both his cult-like following and more casual horror fans.

Running an epic 2.5 hours, Army of the Dead, through a stylish opening montage set to a soulful cover of "Viva Las Vegas", fills viewers in rather effectively on the genesis of the zombie outbreak and its effect on the lead characters. We learn that Vegas fell prey to a zombie apocalypse due to a violent army incident in the Nevada desert. Dave Bautista is Scott Ward, the leader of a crew of badasses called 'Las Vengeance', who declared war on the undead after losing his wife. When the film opens up, the crew has gone their separate ways, with Vegas now a walled-off city the government plans to nuke. Bautista, now down and out despite winning a Medal of Honor, is a cook at a dive restaurant, who can’t resist getting the gang together when hired by a billionaire, Hiroyuki Sanada’s Bly Tanaka, to go in and recover $200 million locked in a safe. Reuniting the old gang, which includes Ana de la Reguera as his second in command Cruz, Omari Harwick as the philosophical muscle, Vanderohe, plus Tig Notaro’s Peters, his pilot, the crew descends into Vegas. They are joined by a German safecracker played by Matthias Schweighöfer, a Vegas Coyote played by Nora Arnezeder, Raul Castillo’s viral video influencer and more in their decent into Vegas to recover the money and get out before the city gets nuked. Complicating things is the addition of Ella Purnell’s Kate Ward, who happens to be Ward’s estranged daughter.

No mere zombie tale, Snyder spends a lot of time establishing the zombie hierarchy. They’re not all mindless, with an alpha class of zombies being somewhat intelligent and organized. There are loads of shootouts, betrayals, and ultra-violent setpieces, with Snyder making the most out of his R-rating. Being the DP, he pulls off some really interesting action scenes, including a show-stopping shootout involving Canadian wushu champ Samantha Win that blew me away. The ensemble is great, with Bautista a surprisingly soulful, soft-spoken hero. While immense, he’s presented as a solid, loving guy, capable of extreme ultra-violence when pushed. Trust me - full Bautista gets unleashed, especially in the last act. Everyone is good here, with De La Reguera having nice chemistry with Bautista and Purnell sweet as his estranged daughter, who’s a UN volunteer trying to help the displaced former citizens of Vegas. Here the conflict is that Nora Arnezeder’s coyote brought a friend of hers into Vegas to find enough money to buy her way out of displacement camps, so Purnell’s gone back in to save her. 

Of the cast, the scene-stealer has to be Schweighofer as Ludwig Dieter, a safecracker who’s so likeable he’s getting his own solo prequel, Army of Thieves, which Schweighofer himself also directed. One interesting thing about Army of the Dead is how violent and dramatic it gets. The trailers have been mostly selling the fun aspect, but in the third act, the film takes a turn that leads it down a grittier path that feels thematically similar to what Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead, with it almost getting nihilistic. It’s an entertaining ride, with great music by Junkie XL, plus my fave Elvis song, "Suspicious Minds" over the end credits. Snyder’s building a franchise here and it seems likely to become one. While it’s maybe a touch long at 2.5 hours, and a call-out to Aliens by Arnezeder’s character feels a little too on the nose, overall this is a blast of apocalyptic action with terrific set pieces and great performances. Notably, Snyder's shot this at a 1:78:1 aspect ratio, meaning it fills your whole tv set, giving it a huge, epic look that’s unique as Netflix tends to shoot wider to make the movies look more cinematic, although the big canvas he shoots on makes this feel almost like an IMAX movie for home viewing. It’s a total blast. 

Source: JoBlo.com

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