I want to get this out of the way from the jump: I’m not a Zack Snyder hater. I recently came around and discovered the quality of Batman v Superman, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League is very good to great, and I absolutely adore Man of Steel (nothing to link to for this one… yet). The only other one of his films I’ve seen is 300, which was years ago, but I remember enjoying it, but I’m planning to catch up on the rest of his filmography. I just felt like it was important to get this out of the way…
Because I really disliked Army of the Dead. Unfortunately, this zombie heist flick doesn’t live up to its awesome premise.
This film knows what it is and it stays inside the campiness of the genre. Snyder treats his DCEU characters with the utmost seriousness and does a good job with it, for the most part. But here, you can tell he smartly knew that a movie about a group of around a dozen people breaking into a Las Vegas that’s cut off from the rest of the country with giant walls to extract $200 million from a safe is inherently ridiculous. But an inherently ridiculous premise does not a bad movie make.
A runtime of just under two and a half hours with too much plot and too little attention paid to characters is what makes a bad movie. For the first hour and 45 minutes, I was invested in what was going on. I bought into the film’s premise and was ready for a grand, bland statement about the nature of humanity from Snyder. But that never came.
The film has all the elements of a heist movie as well as all the elements of a zombie movie. There’s the outbreak, the fear of the zombies, the planning stage, and the mission of course not going according to plan. And there’s nothing wrong with following genre conventions when you’re doing it well, and especially when you’re mixing two distinct genres together like this. The real problem here is all the cool stuff that was set up and never paid off and character motivations appearing completely out of thin air in the third act. Up to that point, everything was rather simplistic character-wise. Snyder has a unique ability to make you spend all this time with characters in an overlong movie, yet by the end, you don’t feel like you know them at all apart from the grand declarations they make about how they feel sprinkled in here and there. They each had something that they were after and it made sense (for most of them). But there’s one scene in particular involving Dave Bautista and Ana de la Reguera’s characters that is totally out of left field and I think I might still be suffering from whiplash because of it.
I’m not trying to completely destroy this movie, though. Visually, it’s good, not great. Snyder has proven himself over and over to be forward-thinking and creative when it comes to how his movies look. He’s even his own director of photography, which means extra slow motion and shallow depth of field. But apart from a zombie tiger, which is admittedly badass, there was nothing that kept my interest after the subpar story. I recently wrote about Wrath of Man and said that I enjoyed watching the movie because it was done so well in a visual sense, even though there was an upsetting story. The visuals of Army of the Dead didn’t do nearly enough to offset the upsetting story.
My biggest problem with Army of the Dead is that it ultimately felt pointless, only taking itself into context. There was the tiger, a king and queen zombie, a [spoiler redacted], and hints at the time loop genre also being part of the movie. But none of it felt significant. It doesn’t even really say anything, and the setups and lack of payoffs just felt like they were being saved for the franchise that’s going to come out of this movie, which left nothing but undead tiger to chew on.
I like the people involved here. Whether you love or hate his movies, Snyder is by all accounts a pleasure to work with and all of his public appearances are fun and noteworthy. But everyone swings and misses every once in a while. And Dave Bautista gave his first meaty non-Drax performance that has me that much more excited for Knives Out 2 and Dune. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t make this one work.