People go to the movies for a number of different reasons, but being entertained is usually near the top of the list. When it comes to entertainment, Zack Snyder’s movies don’t lack flash, flair, or action. His latest film has plenty of those qualities, but the lack of substance ends up defining Army of the Dead more than anything else.
Dressed up as a zombie-action movie it’s really more of a heist flick, complete with all the familiar plot points: shady businessman recruiting a former soldier for a nearly impossible job, said soldier putting together a team of “specialists” who happen to all be eccentric in their own ways, a notoriously difficult safe that needs cracking, and a secret underground vault in Las Vegas. Think Ocean’s Eleven with zombies. However, what made the Ocean’s franchise work was the character dynamics.
That’s the reason why I loved Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), but it’s ultimately the Achilles’ heel for AOTD. Dave Bautista is a good lead but the role stripped out the comedy chops he’s established so well over his acting career, swapping it for an ill-fitting father-daughter relationship with Ella Purnell. It could have worked better, but the focus is constantly getting pulled from the father/daughter angle so, by the time it’s supposed to be most impactful, it’s not as well-earned as you’d hope for. I like the idea of him stretching his range as an actor, it’s just strange that there is humor in the script but he’s not the focal point.
There are good characters in this story, sort of a Suicide Squad vibe, and they are played well (Nora Arnezeder, Theo Rossi, Omari Hardwick, and Matthias Schweighöfer in particular) but the interpersonal relationships take a back seat to extended action scenes that comprise what felt like 75% of the movie. There is only so much time you can dedicate to shooting endless zombies in the head before it becomes redundant, and that happened too early on.
Synder and his writing partners, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, came up with an interesting new brand of zombies. In exploring their origins and their existence inside Vegas, Synder & Co. managed to convey a good amount of motivation and emotion for the alpha zombies…arguably more than they did for their human counterparts. But again, the aspect that really made this zombie movie unique was the subtext to a fairly generic main story.
Synder accumulated a lot of equity with fans after the whole Justice League situation, and this movie certainly benefitted from that support. The full potential of this concept wasn’t fully realized, but not everyone out there is looking for the same things I am.
Recommendation: If you’re an ardent fan of Snyder’s filmmaking, have a soft spot for heist movies, or want some mindless zombie shooting mayhem, you’ve come to the right place.