Zack Snyder continues his glorious comeback with a brain-splattering, action-packed new take on the zombie genre. Army of the Dead is a heist film that takes place in a Las Vegas overrun by flesh eaters. Don't think of it as Ocean's Eleven meets The Walking Dead. The film sets up a zombie scenario with a much more sophisticated adversary. Excellent practical effects and makeup design add to the gruesome carnage. A sappy subplot and long runtime are negatives, but not enough to drag the film down. Army of the Dead will be a monster hit for Netflix.
Army of the Dead begins with a frenetic montage that introduces the primary characters and frames the narrative. An accident leads to Las Vegas becoming infested by zombies. The military surrounds the city with a barricade of containers to corral the undead. A quarantine zone is established on the outskirts to house and monitor displaced residents. Stringent measures are taken to ensure the infection doesn't spread beyond the former Sin City.
Dave Bautista stars as Scott Ward, an ex-military man who escaped Las Vegas with his team of bad-asses, Las Vengeance. Flipping burgers in the aftermath, he's approached by a casino mogul (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a lucrative, but dangerous and time-sensitive job. There's $200 million dollars stuck in his vault. He wants the money before the government nukes the city in four days on July 4th. Ward assembles his mercenaries (Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro), along with a safecracker (Matthias Schweighöfer) and trigger-happy social media influencer (Raúl Castillo). The mission becomes more complex when he's forced to enlist his estranged daughter (Ella Purnell) and a dubious coyote (Nora Arnezeder) to infiltrate the city.
Zack Snyder had previously earned his zombie merit badge with the awesome Dawn of the Dead in 2004. He changes the game completely by making the undead more than mindless organ munchers. There are different types of zombies, who aren't just flailing around, and actually have an agenda. Getting to the vault isn't simply blasting your way through. The team has to carefully negotiate a path to their objective. But not everyone on the mission has the same goal. Snyder's storyline is not the stale zombie retread we've seen countless times before. It's refreshing to have a little creativity back in the genre.
Army of the Dead has its fill of CGI, but the creature and makeup effects are a standout. There are scenes where blood and viscera splash the camera lens. Arteries spurt like fountains, skin gets ripped, and intestines are drawn like noodles. I am not a fan of extreme gore, but the plot warrants a bloodbath. This isn't torture porn. There's a human toll to the action that makes sense. Death doesn't come easy or pain-free in this film.
Zack Synder's usual foibles are present. Army of the Dead runs two hours and twenty-eight minutes. The film's length results in a few unnecessary lulls. Thankfully the action picks back up, but a tighter edit would have helped the pacing. There's also tinges of melodrama as Dave Bautista and Ella Purnell have a strained father-daughter relationship. It's completely unbelievable and forced. That said, Snyder's fans are keenly aware of his recent loss and understand why the theme of reconciliation is so important.
Army of the Dead is a fun crowd-pleaser from a director who's clearly back in the groove. It's the first film in a new zombie universe with a prequel, Army of Thieves, slated for later this year. Army of the Dead is a production of The Stone Quarry. It will have a theatrical release on May 14th. Followed by a streaming debut May 21st on Netflix.