Army of the Dead is the movie that deserves to have Zack Snyder in the prefix of its title more than Justice League - given the fact that it takes us back to the director's roots and his signature cinematographic effects and themes he loves to visualize on the big screen. The zombie-heist-thriller is an extravaganza that subtly induces all sorts of sub-genres, from drama to action, in the screenplay, as the bullets blowing heads off the shamblers breaks all hell loose.
With Snyder himself behind the camera shooting the film, gives you some striking sequences, filled with brutal action, exactly in line with those we have watched in Snyder's 300. Massive thanks to Snyder's extensive use of CGI shots, the film looks uniquely eccentric and anomalous, resulting in a completely new outlook of zombie entertainment, deviating far away from other typical Hollywood zombie mayhems, as well as Snyder's debut Dawn of the Dead.
But Snyder's deep dive into his weird subconscious filled with hysterical concepts he presents on-screen is witnessed in the film's dialogues, conversations, and the overall unraveling of the story of Army of the Dead. And during one such unraveling comes a bizarre theory from one of the mercs executing the heist, which shortly turns this zombie-heist film into a mysterious science-fiction. We are talking about the suggested time loop theory by Omari Hardwick's character, Vanderohe.
It's a big wild "WHAT IF?" for the audience and even the characters of the film to even consider Vanderohe's time-loop theory be true, but Zack Snyder's notorious habit of playing with the audiences' head and leaving bread crumbs to follow instead of revealing the whole story forces us to think deeply about it. Was Vanderohe right about the team being stuck in an infinite loop?? Or was it just a metaphorical and allegorical reference to their fate sealed in permanence for they trespass the boundaries they shouldn't?
Vanderohe's theory on the team's heist attempt?
In the movie, after losing Chambers, the team eventually gets inside the casino and splits up their duties. Among them, Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), and Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo) make their way to the basement where the casino vault is located, while Scott (Dave Bautista) and Kate (Ella Purnell) activating power backup for them.
Now there is a sealed metal gateway between Dieter, the enigmatic safecracker. As he dreams of cracking the "unbreakable" safe and reach to the other side of it containing 200 million dollars, he sees a few skeletons of a previous heist group laying right at the side of the gate. While Dieter laughs at their failed attempt and their subsequent death, Vanderohe comes up with a theory to justify those corpses.
Vanderohe suggests that the dead skeletons belong to "them", the current tram executing the heist, including himself. His play is that the team is stuck in some puzzling infinite time loop, destined to try and break into the vault fighting off zombies of Las Vegas. But, every time, they try, fight, and ultimately die, without ever getting to the vault. And then, in an "ironic reveal", everything begins again. He doesn't stop there. He also suggests that their employer, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), is the master puppeteer here, an almighty controller of their fate, the Devil or God, a bigger player who has the power to just snap and restart the entire thing again.
Though Dieter is pretty baffled at Vanderohe's imagination, he is distracted as Vanderohe blow up the sealed gate and puts him back to focus on the task at hand, which is to reach the vault door without triggering the apparently "non-lethal" deterrents or say, "booby traps" laid down there at the behest of Tanaka's wicked and gnarly logic.
Though these words subtly lose meaning as the film moves forward towards a brutal confrontation between the mercs and the shamblers led by Zeus, the alpha zombie. But, when you watch the film and realize Vanderohe's assumption thoroughly, there is more meaning to it than it appears.
The striking resemblance between the team and the dead
When Vanderohe is explaining his gritty theory that summarizes that the laying corpses are of no one else's but for themselves, if one look closely, there is a major resemblance between the torn attire on the corpses and the mercenary clothing donned by the team. The first corpse Dieter looks at has the same scarf as worn by Vanderohe. The next corpse lying with a gun in hand has the same red bandana as worn by Scott. The other two corpses resemble Maria (Ana de la Reguera), from the same locket hanging by both the necks and Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), from the same floral shirt and the locket. However, here Peters' role is a bit reversed as in reality she never enters the vault area and remains on the roof trying to fix the rescue chopper instead of fighting off shamblers for most of the film.
Nevertheless, Vanderohe suggests that those corpses, if are they, would be from another timeline where events would have probably gone differently, which, if the theory is considered, correctly justifies the changed role of Peters in the two different versions.
That's the first time that Snyder confuses the audience with this insane theory of the entire movie carrying a hidden sci-fi subplot in it. But, throughout the film, there are other signs and references to this theory, which begin to make some weird sense when you sit through the film more than once.
The dream sequence
When the team first assembles to learn of the plan in detail, they are joined by Tanaka, his chief of security Martin, along with Chambers and Damon who Guzman brings in on his dime. As Bly Tanaka begins to narrate the simple plan, there is a dream sequence or say, a premonition of the future we see, where everything about the plan is visually detailed. The sequence shows the team fighting off zombies, getting in the casino, Dieter opening the vault, and then all of them eventually flying out of Vegas with $200M. But there's a catch.
During this sequence, Guzman's friend Damon is a part of the team, and can be seen fighting shamblers and inside the vault. However, in reality, Damon steps back from the team at the last moment realizing it to be a dangerous mission that has a serious risk of death.
Another catch is that the safes in both the scenarios, the real heist and the dreamy one, are different. The locks in both safes are differently aligned though they share the same mechanisms.
These two subtle differences in the two versions of the heist somehow predict that the film progresses through two or probably more alternate realities, where we see almost different outcomes for each character. And Zack Snyder's comments on the time-loop theory somehow acts as a nod to it. In an interview with The Film Junkee, Snyder talked about Bly Tanaka's multiple attempts to get to the vault, to which he replied,
"I will also say that... there's a chance - and I'm not saying this is 100% true, and in some ways, it's not - but the group at the table, I mean, it's pretty subtle, but that's them also at the table as well as... they get farther every time ... possibly... Is this the time they made it all the way to the money?"
Snyder implied that it could be a possibility that the team did reattempt the same heist in alternate timelines and failed all the times except the one where the team had Damon on their side and the alpha zombies probably did not even exist in that particular reality. However, this seems highly doubtful for Snyder to mix the sci-fi genre with his signature zombie themes, and all this could be just metaphorical.
Dieter's sacrifice and the fate of Vanderohe
When Dieter and Vanderohe reach the vault, Dieter speaks about Death & Rebirth. For Dieter, that vault is a doorwayto another realm, something he tells Scott and Maria when they recruit him for a lower cut of $250,000. Dieter suggests that the vault would either be their destruction or would help them enter a different realm, thus achieving rebirth.
After the vault is opened, the group is ambushed by Zeus and his army of zombies, trapping Dieter and Vanderohe in between. A fight ensues between Vanderohe and Zeus, and just before Zeus could bite Vanderohe, Dieter hits him and pushed Vanderohe inside the vault, locking him in while being apparently killed by Zeus (Dieter's death isn't shown on-screen). After the nuke struck Vegas, Vanderohe emerges from the rubble with the money. The city is wasted, and Vanderohe makes his way to Utah, where he buys a private jet to Mexico. Once on the plane, he begins to celebrate his survival while remembering his friends, only to later realize that he has been bitten.
Vanderohe's survivability is in question here, as even being inside the vault he can't be completely safe from the blast. If Dieter's words are to be believed, it's possible that Vanderohe survived the blast, but, in an entirely different timeline, separate from the events we witness in the film. As Dieter says, that it's the doorway to another realm, Vanderohe probably comes out of the vault in a different time, where he, would probably become the new Zeus. In a way, Vanderohe, is reborn, just not in the way he'd have preferred.
Another reason that Vanderohe could be alive in a different timeline is that as he survives, he finds that he has been bitten. Now, in the entire film, till the point he is locked inside the vault, he is never seen fall prey to any of the zombies. Even during his fight with Zeus, we don't see Zeus biting Vanderohe as Dieter hits Zeus in the head before he could land a bite on his hand. So, there's this low but wild probability, that the last of the sequences of Army of the Dead takes place in a different realm of rebirth.
The multiple realities
If this time loop theory is considered to be true, then the film has unraveled the entire narrative in multiple realities, amalgamated in a way that it is visualized as a single narrative. There's the successful dream sequence, the one where the team died and their corpses lay in the basement, and then there's the ending sequence where Vanderohe emerges alive and victorious into a slightly different time, where the rest of the team has failed, and only he survived. But, this time he is bitten.
Whether Snyder really wishes to add these hints in the film for further exploration of the story or he was just messing with the audience as he usually does by placing highly philosophical metaphors in the film, it's a question of perception and imagination.
This is the alternate opposite iteration of the insane time loop theory. While the time loop theory makes the film intriguing and gets the audience going with the narrative, there is this approach towards it that is just metaphorical and has no real practical to it. Vanderohe's theory is based on the corpses Dieter finds in the basement. Looking at the similar outfits of those corpses as themselves, Vanderohe suggests that those dead people are of the same team in an alternate reality. But Snyder might've just added that similarity between the corpses and the team deliberately to represent the bigger picture.
The reason those corpses are similar to the team members such as Scott and Maria is that all of them share a purpose. Just like Scott's team, the previous team must've had their reasons to commit to the plan. Even the previous teammates would've had the need for money for whatsoever reason, that forced them to enter a zombie-ruled territory.
As for Bly Tanaka, he does resemble a greater deity, God or Devil, as his money and status give him control over the team's lives and allows him to have the power to force their lives in danger. It seems that the team has a choice to decide on their involvement in the dangerous heist, but, Tanaka is the one who chastises them for their living conditions and traps them in his evil plan.
The other team is a version of themselves, as they share similar life and face similar issues, despite being different people, and hence, in a way, Vanderohe and others are typically trapped in a time loop.
On the other hand, Dieter's idea that the vault is a doorway to another realm could be a metaphor for the vault's name. In the film, Dieter tells the team that the vault is named Götterdämmerung, which is Richard Wagner's symphony titled Twilight of the Gods. But the name doesn't mean just that. Götterdämmerung refers to the destruction of society through catastrophic violence, a form of Ragnarok.
Dieter's words and discussion about death and rebirth could represent the death of the team's old life through the violence against the zombies and their ultimate rebirth through the money they shall receive. However, as Dieter explains that the vault could either be a door to destruction or renewal, the team is met with destruction when Zeus infiltrates the casino and kills all members of the team one by one in the ensuing conflict.
This implies that Snyder's Army of the Dead is just high on philosophy and metaphor and these theories and assumptions addressed in the film refer to deeper meaning, allegorical to the personal lives of Scott and his team.
While, Snyder treats us with a visually satisfying film, which, I admit, is not flawless by any far stretch of the mind; however, is decent enough to entertain the audience expected from the film through the promised action sequences, the wicked humor, and lots and lots of opportunities for that story to expand in the future installments of the franchise.
Snyder uses visualization of conversations and dialogues between characters (like the Dream Heist Sequence) to intrigue the audience and adds graphical elements to the narrative of the film. He has used a similar style in Zack Snyder's Justice League to which Army of the Dead pays a special homage. Among Bly Tanaka's precious collections in the vault also lies the canisters of Snyder Cut of Justice League, the ones Snyder shared in a Vero picture when the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was at its peak. It's an indication that both films share similar character consciences and are equivalent to each other in regard to cinematography, visual stylizing, and story narration.
Army of the Dead raises several questions including the one regarding the possibility of an infinite time loop angle in the story. These questions will probably be answered per Zack Snyder's approach towards the expansion of the story in the future installments of the franchise.
The tales from Army of the Dead will continue with a prequel titled Army of Thieves and an animated television series Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, both of which will be released on Netflix this year. While Army of Thieves will feature Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and will take place during the early days of the outbreak; whereas, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas will tell Scott Ward's story during his time with the military and their attempts to quarantine Vegas.
Army of the Dead is currently available to stream on Netflix along with a documentary titled Creating an Army of the Dead featuring the behind-the-scenes of the film.