“Army of the Dead” – Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

2021 has been quite the year for Zack Snyder.  After a very vocal fan campaign resulted in his long awaited “Snyder Cut” of Justice League finally being released, another project of his debuts this very month on Netflix.

Snyder came onto the cinematic scene strong with his remake of Dawn of the Dead back in 2004 (which was also his directorial debut).  According to the director, the concept of Army of the Dead was one he developed back during that time.

And now nearly 20 years later the world gets to see his unadulterated vision as, according to Snyder himself, Netflix gave him complete creative control and the “Snyder Cut” of this movie is the one being released from the start.  So let’s take a deep dive into Army of the Dead and see if Zack Snyder’s return to zombies was worth it!

Different Kind of Zombie “Apocalypse”
Most zombie media falls into one of two categories: those that deal with the initial outbreak and the collapse of society that follows, and those that pick up after some time when the post-apocalyptic world has already taken hold.

Army of the Dead takes a unique approach where we do see how the outbreak begins, but the US military is able to quarantine off the entire affected area of Las Vegas.  The film’s opening (which features a haunting cover of a popular Vegas song) is both grimly hilarious and emotionally poignant.

It does a great job of setting the tone for what kind of movie this will be.  It has all of Zack Snyder’s usual intense slow-motion, but with a strong sense of nihilistic dark humor as well.  But once Vegas is sectioned off, the rest of the nation merely goes on.

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The film is worth watching for the opening montage alone. In a city like Las Vegas, zombies running around feasting on people doesn’t even seem that weird.

There’s a refugee camp set up just outside the city, politicians debate in Washington what to do with the city itself, zombie rights groups emerge, and there are even YouTubers who sneak into the city to make videos of themselves killing zombies, because of course there are!

While not the focus of the movie, these little details of how society adjusted are really fascinating.  Each one of these cutaways could easily be their own movie plot, and it helps to contextualize the greater world that this story is set in.

Eventually, the order is given from Washington that Las Vegas is to be eradicated via nuclear missile, and the zombie issue to be dealt with once and for all.  And with this deadline looming, the film begins its main premise. 

Ocean’s Suicide Squad of the Dead
Former soldier turned fry cook, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with the opportunity of the lifetime.  Tanaka tells him that in the basement of his casino, in the now quarantined city, is a safe containing $200 million cash.

With only days until the nuclear missile is set to decimate Vegas, Tanaka tells Ward he’ll need to assemble his crew, get in, get the money, and get out before the missile flies.

Ward’s team includes his former military comrades Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a young German safe-cracker Dieter (Matthia Schweighöfer), helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), YouTube zombie killer Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a coyote named Lilly who can sneak them in (Nora Arnezeder), as well as Tanaka’s own head of security Martin (Garret Dillahunt) and Ward’s own daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) who’s looking for someone she lost inside the city.

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It’s a stellar cast, and from the behind the scenes footage and interviews, it seems like they had a blast making this movie.

The movie blends the lovable groups of misfits trope with a few heist movie tropes, and throws in zombies for good measure.  Plot wise, it starts off pretty straightforward, but has a few twists, turns, and character betrayals down the line.  Some of these you can see from a mile away, and some of them kind of mess with the movie’s internal logic.  But the focus is less on a cohesive plot and more on the experience and fun with this ensemble cast.

Any ensemble is only as strong as its weakest link, and there really isn’t one here.  Each actor and character brings something different to the story and makes this more interesting once they get into danger.  The biggest standout of course is Dave Bautista, who shows an emotional range that fans of his from wrestling or Guardians of the Galaxy might not even know he has.

Bautista is a really talented actor, and it’s really great to see him use those talents here.  He reportedly turned down a supporting role offered by his friend James Gunn in The Suicide Squad, choosing Army of the Dead because it was a lead role. After seeing his performance here, it’s clear he made the right choice.

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Bautista and costar Ella Purnell have a really great father/daughter dynamic that shows off the immense talents of both actors.

Good Old Fashioned Zombie Fun
But of course, most fans going to see this are doing so for some gory zombie action, and in that department, Army of the Dead lives up to its name.  Not only are these zombies faster and stronger than most others we’ve seen, but they really have created something of a society in the ruins of Vegas, complete with a leader that has human level intelligence. While not adapted outright from it, this zombie society is quite reminiscent of that in Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend”.

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It might also be the only movie to feature a zombie tiger…

There’s a lot of amazing stunts and other practical effect, and some truly memorable visuals with a zombie tiger, and their leader who wears a cape and a helmet, making him look like a zombie version of the one of the Spartans from Zack Snyder’s 300.  In an unusual move, Snyder served as his own director of photography, which he said made it easier to convey his visual style.

Given all that Snyder has been through with Warner Brothers and adapting DC projects, it’s really refreshing to see him direct an original story of his own.  It gets a little weird and farfetched with its story, but it’s an amazing and insane zombie adventure with a great cast and lots of bloody action.  And hopefully it’s just the first of many original projects he get to see from him!

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It’s great to see Snyder back in his element, and there may be a future for him at Netflix, creating more original projects with complete creative freedom.

What did you think of Army of the Dead?  How did it compare to Synder’s Dawn of the Dead?  Let us know in the comments!

Army of the Dead is currently in theaters and will be premiering on Netflix Friday May 21, 2021

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