It’s been a long time since a blockbuster “of the Dead” zombie film hit our screens (since 2009 with Romero’s Survival of the Dead), so expectations of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead were high. I’m a huge fan of zombie films and after a mixed bag of a trailer I had my concerns, and I’m afraid to say some of these concerns were warranted.
Snyder directed the 2004 remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and Army of the Dead is intended to start a new zombie franchise. The film kicks off in the Nevada desert, following an Army transport who have picked up an unknown cargo from Area 51 and a newlywed couple travelling in opposite directions, who collide in a horrific accident that kills the couple and damages the cargo container. The damaged container releases a mutated zombie, who kills and turns the soldiers, setting his sights on the nearest populated area; Las Vegas.
We’re then treated to what is possibly the best opening sequence we’ve seen since 2009’s Zombieland, a montage showing us the zombies taking over the city to a cover of ‘Viva Las Vegas’. It’s funny, wonderfully gory and also seamlessly (and wordlessly) introduces us to the main characters, giving us a quick yet detailed snapshot of their past lives and careers before the zombies took over. The opening montage ends with the city of Las Vegas overcome with zombies and walled off with shipping containers, to prevent the infected from escaping into the wider United States.
We’re then properly introduced to Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former mercenary who despite saving the Secretary of Defense from the overrun Las Vegas, is working as a cook in a diner. He’s visited by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a casino owner who wants to employ Ward to recover $200 million from his casino vault before the Government levels the city with an atomic bomb in 4 days time. Ward takes the job and the offered $50 million cut of the proceeds and recruits his former teammates. This includes mechanic Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), soldier Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro), sharpshooting viral star Guzman (Raúl Castillo) and safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). The team make their way to Vegas where they meet Ward’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who introduces them to Lily (Nora Arnezeder) who leads them into the abandoned city. On route to Bly’s casino, the team encounter all manner of dangers including the mutated, intelligent zombies known as the Alphas.
After such a good opening sequence, Army of the Dead promised a lot, but sadly the next hour is incredibly lacking. It takes over 50 minutes of the film’s runtime for the team to reach Vegas and encounter any zombies that weren’t in the opening credits. This time may have been worthwhile had it been used for character building, however, the majority of the characters are one dimensional and their backstories full of clichéd melodrama. The only characters that come out relatively well are Dieter and Lily, which is a shame as all of the cast here could’ve been given a lot more to work with. The lack of character and personality also means as a viewer we care little about the fates of most of the team.
An overly long run time isn’t the only issue here. Snyder’s style might work well in the world of superheroes, but the cinematography, slow motion and shaky camera used here are completely ill-fitting. For me, a zombie film doesn’t need the full-on CGI and spectacle that is on show here either. But to be honest, the biggest flaw here is the plot. The basics are sound, however, it’s the nonsensical details and minor plot points that make you scratch your head in confusion. Like why would someone be told to sleep on something that requires a fairly prompt decision? Or how the Alphas are so difficult to kill yet half a dozen can be mown down fairly easily by a weaker character? Some of these errors are difficult to ignore. And then there’s the Alphas. Intelligent, fast zombies are nothing new, however, for me, Synder’s take on them, like the rest of the film, is far too over the top. Instead of hinting at intelligence or some sentience from their previous alive existence, the Alphas are almost laughably ridiculous and not scary in the slightest. And some aspects of their evolution is downright ludicrous and unbelievable. There’s a way of allowing zombies to evolve believably (think Land of the Dead) and this isn’t it.
Army of the Dead had a lot of promise. The brilliant opening credits sequence alongside some dark humour and great zombie-killing scenes showed potential, however, the drawn-out run time and the questionable plot points and cinematography really brought it down.
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