Double feature: Click here to see another take on the film, from Andrew, our gaming editor.
Sometimes you just want to watch a fun movie with zombies, and Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” is mostly that. Taking place in a quarantined Las Vegas in which a zombie virus has overrun the city, the film stars Dave Bautista as Scott Ward, a mercenary who is offered a job to recover $200 million from a safe under a casino owned by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) before the military launches a tactical nuke strike on the city. Somehow reduced to a cook, Scott agrees, and quickly assembles a team made up of his former associates Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), along with Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a helicopter pilot; Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer); Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo) a sniper, and his associate, Chambers (Samantha Win).
Along the way, they meet Lily (Nora Arnezeder), a smuggler who gets people into the city; Tanaka’s associate, Martin (Garret Dillahunt); Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi) a corrupt quarantine camp security guard who works just outside the city; and Scott’s estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), who works as a volunteer at the quarantine camp. They all join Scott’s party for various different reasons: Lily, for payment; Martin, to get his cut of the money; Burt is promised to be paid off; and Kate wants in to rescue her friend, Greeta (Huma Qureshi), whom Lily previously escorted into the city.
Right away, we learn that the zombies in this movie are not mindless, as they are controlled by an alpha zombie named Zeus (Richard Cetrone), and his queen zombie (Athena Perample). Lily even secures a sort of cease-fire by giving the zombies Burt, who Zeus infects. And for a time, all is well, as the group only needs to kill stray zombies here and there on their way to the vault, with Zeus’s horde in line. That is, until Martin gets greedy and decides to take the head of the queen zombie to sell to the government, which prompts them to attack.
This is a very bloody and gory movie, but it’s also very cartoonish. So you never really feel scared — at times, it’s even fun. And as you might have guessed, the film’s large cast is not here for Zack Snyder to craft an incredibly complex and interesting narrative, but for most of them to serve as zombie food, which works, because half of them, while somewhat cool, are unlikeable in some way, and are mostly one-dimensional.
Scott, Kate, Vanderohe, Ludwig and Marianne are my favorite characters from the film, with everyone else feeling too underdeveloped for me to really root for. Martin is the true villain of the film, with Zeus acting as an unstoppable force of nature with the title Army of the Dead and a zombie tiger at his command. Though I admit, I found the film’s finale very underwhelming, and the whole thing really makes you wonder if the entire movie was necessary as all as, mild spoilers, everyone involved would have been better off from a character standpoint if they had just not bothered to take part in the whole endeavor.
Also, addressing the elephant in the room: Tig Notaro was originally not supposed to be in the film, but was digitally-edited in to replace Chris D’Elia after he was hit with a major sexual misconduct scandal and lawsuit. I watched the film oblivious to this, and Notaro’s scenes were fine and didn’t seem out of place, but if you’re looking for inconsistencies between how her scenes are shot versus the rest of the movie, you can probably find them — especially if you’re a cynical film nerd — but if you’re not looking for them, I think her scenes look fine. As the pilot, her job is to fix and drive the helicopter at the top of the casino, so she’s naturally separated from the group. Had she had to replace someone constantly fighting beside Scott’s group, I think it would have been more noticeable that her scenes were shot after the fact.
As a whole, “Army of the Dead” is fine. It’s obvious that Snyder was constrained by a relatively small streaming budget ($90 million) and that he wasn’t able to do everything he would have wanted to try had this been a theatrical film. And it’s true that the film underutilized it’s Vegas setting. But as a dumb popcorn flick about zombies in Las Vegas, it generally does the job.
“Army of the Dead” gets a 6/10