Army Of The Dead Review

Army Of The Dead
Overrun with zombies, the city of Las Vegas has been abandoned by the living. Former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is hired to gather a team of specialists to break back in and steal a cash bounty from the vault of a casino. But the undead are more organised than they might have expected.

by John Nugent |
Updated on
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Army Of The Dead

Zombies have changed, and so has Zack Snyder. Back in 2004, his stylish, energetic debut — a remake of George A. Romero’sDawn Of The Dead — announced the arrival of a singular blockbuster voice, and the reanimation of the long-dormant undead. (This time, they can run!) After spending so long in the moody, washed-out super-soap opera of the DCEU, it’s refreshing to see Snyder reignite his first love with this romp of a genre mash-up, that lets Snyder loose with his most gleeful indulgences, almost as much as his worst excesses.

He doesn’t dally. The first explosion clocks in at around the three-minute mark, and from there it is a cascade of gloriously gratuitous gore and gunfights. The opening salvo — few make balletic, slow-motion opening-title sequences quite as expertly, or slowly, as Snyder — efficiently establishes the premise, in which a zombie outbreak engulfs the city of Las Vegas, with all its affiliated vices (strippers, Elvis impersonators, Liberace-style singers, a tiger) doomed to hunt for brains forever.

Army Of The Dead

With hints of Escape From New York, it’s not a wholly original premise — just last year, in fact, Train To Busan sequel Peninsula followed a similar ‘heist, but with zombies’ concept. And it’s not without flab, either: after his four-hourJustice Leaguecut, two-and-a-half hours might seem relatively thrifty, but there are pacing issues. After that rollicking opening sequence, there’s some clumsy set-up as the film rushes to introduce its giant ensemble.

Army Of The Dead is best when Snyder leans into the fun, and allows himself moments of pure silliness.

There’s not enough space here to cover all of them, suffice to say that in the horror tradition, don’t get too cosy with any of these characters. But credit must go to Dave Bautista as the battle-scarred Scott, who provides a droll war-weariness (“Yeah, we’ll probably die,” he admits in the opening act) and — along with Raúl Castillo and Omari Hardwick — helps to meet Snyder’s strict testosterone quota. Kudos, too, to Tig Notaro, whose late addition cigar-chomping helicopter pilot is a highlight.

The film is not shy of tropes; plenty of these characters feel plucked from the Aliens line-up, from the nervy private to the treacherous company man to Nora Arnezeder’s Vasquez-alike hero, while the safe-cracking sequence is pure Danny Ocean. But sometimes the tropes are the best part: witness a golden-hour gear-up montage, set to a twinkly cover of ‘Bad Moon Rising’, or a shoot-out in a casino, backgrounded by dollar bills cascading in slow-mo, as if guest-directed by John Woo.

Army Of The Dead is best when Snyder leans into the fun, and allows himself moments of pure silliness. When he aims for more emotional territory — like the rather trite guilt-to-redemption arc between Scott and his estranged daughter, played capably by Ella Purnell — we start to feel the weight of that running time. Drilled down, there’s not much going on under the bonnet, either; as in his take on Dawn, the satirical edge of Romero’s zombies has been blunted. But when the bullets start flying and the zombie flesh starts exploding, it feels like Snyder is doing exactly what he wants, and that early 2004 promise comes right back into focus.

Freed from the shackles of superheroes, this boasts Zack Snyder’s best (and worst) traits in full force: a stupidly entertaining — if excessive and overlong — zombie blockbuster blow-out.
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