Army of the Dead (2021) Strikes Undead Gold for Netflix
Title: Army of the Dead
First Wide Release: May 14, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 148 Minutes
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After a horrible accident, Las Vegas has been overrun by a horde of zombies which the U.S government has managed to contain over the years by walling the city and establishing quarantined communities around the perimeter to ensure the infection doesn’t move forward. In just a few days, Las Vegas will be wiped off the face of the world with a nuclear bomb to rid the country of their undead problem. Scott (Dave Bautista), a former soldier turned restaurant cook who helped in the containment process, is approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a billionaire, about a job. Tanaka needs Scott to set up a team of mercenaries to venture into the heart of the city and retrieve $200,000,000. Strapped for cash and pushed by a desire to confront demons of their past, the group assembled begins their journey into Sin City for the ultimate gamble.
Burning with carnage and pulse-pounding suspense, Army of the Dead is a fantastic zombie film that serves a heaping helping of tension, scares, and laughs.
The easiest way to get behind a horror film, in my opinion, is create characters that you care about in some capacity. In Army of the Dead, the characters feel so real and authentic. I genuinely cared about their safety and knew enough about them to where they didn’t seem like mere zombie fodder but people whose survival I actively rooted for. This extends even to the more minor characters, which, to me, is rare. Marianne and Dieter are exceptionally fun characters that add just enough humor to the film without spoiling it, while Lilly gives it a bit of an edge with her steely confidence.
It is surprisingly taut for how long it is. Snyder has a talent for making meaty films packed with many essential parts. Not only that but it’s full of fantastic imagery. Hundred-dollar bills falling in the crossfire of bullets and zombie snarls in a casino, a zombified tiger, and a man in a slowly parachuting into a swarm of zombies are all impressive and iconic moments. Speaking of that parachute scene, the montage sequence overlayed in the opening credits is exquisite and accompanied by an on-point song selection of “Viva Las Vegas.” These directorial choices and more help Army of the Dead achieve a fun cinematic flair that is often neglected in this subgenre.
There are some issues with the film, of course. There are a myriad of loose ends, weird fillers, and unrealized plot points that detract from the overall product of the film. Excising these anomalies could have made the film tighter without taking anything away from character development or suspense. This can be seen with character arcs, zombie lore, and motivations for the heist itself. Another annoying aspect of Army of the Dead is its commitment to stretching the concept of time to its absolute limits. I understand that Hollywood magic is used to fit in all the necessary moments of a dramatic or tense sequence. But when the movie stretches out 9 minutes into 20, it starts to push the boundaries of believability.
I don’t imagine this was Snyder’s intention, but with almost every zombie film there’s always the opportunity to relate it back to societal ills. Las Vegas is an interesting but apt setting for a story that centers primarily on human greed. The message here, unlike plenty of zombie films, isn’t that humans are the worst monsters of all, but that greed motivates people to do stupid things. Furthermore, while Army of the Dead was filmed long before COVID-19 hit, it’s still hard to ignore the statements about government inadequacy, the politics regarding displaced people, and, again, the ever-present evil that greed manipulates people into doing terrible things despite its impact on themselves and others.
The praise for Zack Snyder’s return to the world of zombies is well-earned as he has crafted a great action horror film packed with plenty of zombie mayhem. His remake of Dawn of the Dead is easily one of my favorite films of all time and Army of the Dead showcases everything I love about zombies. There’s heart to the characters, world-building that doesn’t feel stale or too out there, fantastic action sequences and scares, and an overall pitch-perfect tone that balances terror with levity. Army of the Dead is a kickass zombie heist film that hits all the right notes. Try your luck and stream it or watch in theaters today.
Overall Score? 8/10