Friday, May 28, 2021

Film Review: Army of the Dead (Netflix)


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

This is a movie where the execution just doesn't live up to the concept.

Army of the Dead is a heist movie set in a zombie film.  Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies.  The US government has blocked all of the zombies in with a giant wall until the drop a nuclear bomb on the city to wipe it out.  This means that all the unclaimed cash will be destroyed.  That's when down and out zombie fighter Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a proposition: sneak into Vegas and retrieve $200 million from a casino vault and he will get to keep $50 million.  Ward then puts together a team to go in:

-Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick): friends from his zombie-fighting days.

-Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer): Nerdy German safe-cracker

-Lilly (Nora Arnezeder): a coyote who can get them past the wall

-Marianna (Tig Notaro): sarcastic helicopter pilot

-Martin (Garrett Dillahunt): Tanaka's security chief.

There are few other members, but you get the idea.  In addition to this, Ward's estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) wants to go into the city to rescue a refugee who may have been taking by the zombies.  

The first act of the movie is actually incredibly enjoyable.  Getting the rag-tag group and coming up with the plan was exciting in the way that a good joke set-up will hook you.  You start seeing how each of the characters starts fitting into the puzzle they have to solve in order to have their big pay day.  It's also fun to put yourself in their shoes and wonder how much danger you would risk for that amount of money.  But once they start actually getting into Vegas, things never quite reach their potential.

My critics of the movie center mainly around the execution of the events, so it is going to be difficult to explain my problems without getting into spoilers, so:


Upon entering the city, we come across a new type of zombie.  Instead of being mindless beasts, they are savage but have some kind of intelligence and tribal hierarchy.  It felt like writer/director Zack Snyder was taking a page out of I Am Legend.

One of the first things that happens when they enter is the coyote essentially shoots one of the group and offers him to these smart zombies.  It is justified by saying that this sacrificial lamb is an evil person.  I don't mind that the movie gets into morally murky territory.  That would actually be incredibly interesting to explore.  But there is no getting around that she is straight up murdering someone and no on ever brings it up again.  There seems to be a bit of moral discomfort, but no one has to reflect on the fact that they are all now a party to a murder.

Another problem is the lack of surprise with Martin.  The other characters constantly talk about how they don't trust him and how they all know he is going to betray them.  Instead of raising this in a way that twists expectations, his eventual betrayal feels so cliché.  His reasons for doing so are just like those from the Jurassic World series, and even then they seemed stupid and tired.  If you look back at Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, he did the opposite.  In that movie he took characters that you knew were going to be stereotypical villains and instead gave them layers and nuance and heroism.  Not so here.


The movie also feels like it lacks restraint in its mature content.  Snyder has been working with famous characters in the DCEU for a while now and so he needed to be constrained in how he portrayed them.  Here, he amps up the violence to 11.  The deaths are gross and gory.  There is gratuitous nudity in the opening montage.  The movie is also about an hour too long.  It's narrative flow seems to languish, especially in the extended epilogue to the main story.  It feels like Snyder is feeling unrestrained and so doesn't have the discipline to reign himself in.  It reminds me of how Arrested Development moved to Netflix and nearly ruined their entire series because they no longer had to keep up to broadcast standards.

This movie should be WAY more fun.  It should be Ocean's 11 but with zombies.  

That isn't to say that the movie is terrible.  Snyder has become one of my favorite directors and he knows how to set up the visuals.  His movies are always visceral and dynamic.  Bautista does a great job of centering the film.  Unlike other wrestlers turned actors (e.g. Dwayne Johnson and John Cena), Bautista knows how to play things with effective understatement.  Notaro has some fun lines in the movie, but most everyone else is forgettable.  The action set pieces are fun for the most part, but also not very memorable.

I don't know anyone who will love Army of the Dead.  But if you just want some mindless entertainment, it might do for a couple of hours.

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