Army of the Dead 2021 Movie Review
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder , Zack Snyder
Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
Doesn’t a Zack Snyder zombie film set in Las Vegas sound like a lot of fun? It’s a sure thing. On May 21, Netflix will release Army of the Dead, and it’s every moment as subtle as it seems.
Dave Bautista is the leader of a mercenary team charged with making their way across the Vegas strip and into a casino, busting open a bank, and fleeing in a helicopter. Isn’t it straightforward? Except there’s a legion of the undead who’ve abandoned slot machines in favor of chomping on human flesh. What happens in Vegas remains in Vegas, but not everything that happens in Vegas stays dead.
Zack Snyder thoroughly embraces the setting of Las Vegas, using both the city’s not-so-popular iconography and its cheesy sound. Under gigantic neon pink credits, blood-dripping Vegas showgirls blast high rollers apart in slow motion, as a jazzy live rendition of Viva Las Vegas plays. Since, well, why not?
Our heroes are a multicultural, multiskilled motley crew of harsh nuts, a la Predator, or Aliens from the 1980s. There’s also a shady business snoop in the mix. Okay, so this is the kind of film where characters are presented based on the arms they use to shred zombies into gory bits, but the film also makes an attempt to make them feel believable and relatable.
The cast’s charisma needs to carry a lot of the weight. The amiable muscle is provided by Omari Hardwick and Ana de la Reguera, with a zombie-blasting YouTuber, a Kohl-eyed ice blonde, and a shaky safecracker rounding out the team. Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays the kooky kid with the knowledge to unlock the safe, steals every scene, while Tig Notaro’s stogie-chomping chopper pilot gives him a run for his money. And, as in Blade Runner 2049, man-mountain Dave Bautista plays the conflicted veteran with winningly responsive performance.
Snyder chooses the musical score with his normal delicacy, so we get Bad Moon Rising, The End (from Apocalypse Now), and a climactic song that’s either fiendishly cynical or just plain boneheaded, in addition to Elvis’ Vegas-themed hits. The thing about Army of the Dead is this: It has a lot of fun referring to other movies, but there reaches a point where you doubt if it’s ripping off Aliens or just meeting scenes from James Cameron’s 1986 war/monster masterpiece at random. For eg, Aliens builds to a scene of valiant bravery that sounds tragic and well-deserved; Army of the Dead takes the scenario and drops it in at a convenient moment where it rarely registers.
Snyder is clearly having fun with the action genre, as shown by a scene featuring earlier missions that rely on the absurd. However, it’s impossible to tell what’s a tribute and what’s just a lack of creativity.
Since it’s a zombie novel, there’s a darkly satirical undercurrent. Snyder’s prior zombie film was the 2004 adaptation of James Gunn’s Dawn of the Dead, which served as a sly neoliberal parody of senseless zombies scampering through shopping malls. The irony here includes decaying husks of people trundling over casino carpets and a zombie king standing atop a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The devastated city is a perfect reflection of the American dream, a place of prosperity where you will stake your livelihood for untold riches.
However, there are a remarkable amount of pauses in the pace in between. And when you anticipate a balls-to-the-wall slaughter-fest, it takes over an hour to get into the area, and there’s time for father-daughter soul-to-soul and general ambling about. The squad is remarkably allowed to wander in a city infested with roamers. When you glance at the running time, you have to wonder if a film about mercenaries battling zombies in Las Vegas really needs to be two and a half hours long. No way, no how. We should be grateful, however, because Snyder’s last film (the Justice League Snyder Cut) was 4 hours long.
Even so, everything these days is just too long. While Army of the Dead doesn’t win every game, it does have a few aces up the sleeve in terms of battle sequences and a nice Vegas atmosphere.