Surely it’s Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead? Like a kid starting kindergarten, it’s expected that everything involving the slam-bam auteur has to bear his name. So this must be the Snyder cut of this venture, offering the expanded version of the director’s vision; Army of the Dead reaches back to the same director’s fresher Dawn of the Dead remake, and posits a scenario familiar from dozens of post-apocalyptic films and video games. It’s a Vegas heist movie with zombies, tigers and more, and certainly delivers with $90 million worth of blood-splatting on the camera lens for apathetic home-audiences to enjoy while they footer with their phones.
At least, compared to much of the weak Netflix output, this looks and feels like a film, albeit bloated and overblown. Several music-driven opening sequences set up a zombie escaping from a government convoy taking the critter to area 51, then the fall of Las Vegas to a zombie army, and the quarantining of the city before a prepared nuclear strike. With lots of visual exposition, it’s a good 20 minutes before we get some introspection from mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) as he prepares to lead a team into the zombie party to rescues the contents of a casino vault. They’re to follow the orders of corporate enigma Bly Tananka (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Ward’s crack team includes his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), obvious traitor Martin (Garett Dillahunt), silly safe-cracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and mouthy chopper pilot Peters (Tig Notaro); presumably no Chinese acrobat was deemed necessary for this particular heist.
It’s a good 50 minutes before we even breach the row of shipping containers that somehow keep the zombies in; once we do, there’s a zombie tiger to contend with, and the ranks of shambling grunt zombies are joined by alphas, smarter zombies who look disappointingly like The Croods and have a Medusa-like queen. So Ward’s mission plays out like most war/heist movies always do as they fight their way in and back out, leaving a trail of their dead as they go. This is a Netflix film, so any notions of cinematic briskness are put aside for 150+ minutes; languid dialogue scenes skirt around Ward’s estrangement from his daughter and other world-building which doesn’t count for much in a straightforward action finale.
Army of the Dead may well be Snyder’s most coherent film to date, slavishly updating the most worn-out of tropes; in 2021, heist and zombie movies are utterly played out, and Snyder somehow gets bogged down in the worst clichés from both worlds here. But Snyder also brings a big, multi-layered production, which plays out reasonably engrossingly as times, and has enough wit and imagination to keep the audience semi-rapt. A spin-off follow-up about the most tiresome character (the endlessly effusive comic-relief Dieter) sounds utterly resistible, but the ersatz blockbuster of Army of the Dead should satisfy the Saturday night crowd who fancy a mindless buffet of tough guys and girls, plus added guns and monsters. The MVP here is Omari Hardwick, who has the best scene with a mid-picture freak-out which reflected my own, but also bears the weight of an annoying post-script which ends the film on a pointlessly derivative note.