Review: Army of the Dead (2021)

Did road head seriously lead to the destruction of Las Vegas?

I’m a fan of zombie movies. I’m a fan of heist movies. I’m an even bigger fan of when two genres get mashed together to create something new and unique. So, you would think that the new Netflix zombie heist movie, Army of the Dead (2021), would be something that would really appeal to me. While Army of the Dead certainly had the key elements that make those kind of movies fun to watch, this bloated offering from Zack Snyder ultimately suffers from also trying to be a military movie, as well as taking itself too seriously. Sure, not every movie needs to be filled with comedy or market itself as one, but when you have a premise as out there as this one, it seems like having a slightly more comedic tone would definitely help make the movie more entertaining. There were parts of this movie I really enjoyed, but for me, there were too many conflicting ideas and moving pieces that never seemed to come together in a pleasing way.

Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Directed and co-written by Snyder, Army of the Dead follows a group of mercenaries who risk their lives entering the zombie-run city of Las Vegas in order to rob a casino of $200 million. The group races against the clock as they must pull off the heist before a bomb is set off to destroy the horde of zombies that has taken over the city.

I had a real back and forth relationship with Army of the Dead during its first 15 minutes. One minute I loved the darkly comedic, silly tone it seemed to be taking on, and the next I was fed up with the military movie clichés and overly emotional beats it insisted on. At first I was like, “this movie is TWO AND HALF HOURS LONG?! Hate it.” Then I went, “haha, the zombie outbreak started because some dummies were having sex in their car. Love it!” Then during the opening sequence (for which Snyder is famous for including in all his movies) I was like, ugh, this is too long and unnecessarily melodramatic. Hate it.” Then I went, “haha, okay, I see some elements of ridiculous wackiness. Love it!” I’m telling you, I got tonal whiplash during the beginning of this movie. What I enjoyed about the opening montage was how well it showed the demise of Vegas and how the zombies overran the city. It reminded me of the campy, monster B movies of the 1980s and early 1990s. If Army of the Dead had gone that route and injected itself with much more humour, levity and lighthearted nonsense, I think I would have preferred it much more. If it had been more like, Shaun of the Dead (2004), for example. By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. Snyder’s military, action-y approach is fine and I can see why people enjoyed this movie as much as they did, but I think treating this more as a horror-comedy would have made more sense and yielded a more positive reception. But hey, that’s just me.

I think I’m just not the biggest fan of Snyder’s work. His tone and directorial style, I mean. Granted, the only two of his movies that I’ve seen are Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017) – the theatrical version – but still, as someone who LOVES DC characters, I didn’t love either of those movies. Now after seeing a third Snyder movie, I can confirm that his filmmaking style just does not mesh with what I personally want out of a movie. Is Army of the Dead a badly made movie? Absolutely not. I never once during the TWO AND A HALF HOUR runtime (yes, I’m still salty about it) went, “oh God this movie sucks.” There are cool, well-shot action sequences, the world feels real and lived-in, and the zombies are portrayed in a way that I’ve never seen done before. That zombie tiger was rad as Hell! I don’t have any overwhelmingly negative things to say about this movie.

That being said, there was so much about this movie that I would loved to have edited, something that Snyder doesn’t seem to be a fan of doing to his movies. For starters, there was far too much emotion and seriousness in this movie. The premise of Army of the Dead has all the makings of a fun, stupid, monster, action movie, but tonally Snyder treats it with all the somberness and weight of The Great Escape (1963) or Inception (2010). And having the movie be so serious when you can tell it’s meant to be silly really made some of Snyder’s dialogue come off as clunky and disjointed. The other big thing I would have changed about Army of the Dead is, you guessed it, that egregious runtime. I’m all for long movies that earn that runtime. You know, ones that actually need over two hours to fully tell a complete and interesting story. But when it’s 45 minutes into a HEIST movie before the heist even begins, I think you may need to go back and cut out a few unnecessary, expository scenes. I mean, come on. An HOUR in before they even start killing zombies? Army of the Dead isn’t bad, it’s just bloated and overstuffed. Good Lord, especially when it comes to the cast. 

Do you know what I like most about heist movies? Getting to know a close-knit, fun, and engaging group of thieves and watching them work together to pull off the caper. In Army of the Dead there are up to like, 12 people on this heist and it seems as though the movie is actively trying to prove how expendable and basic each one is. All of the characters, except for Dave Bautista’s Scott and Ana de la Reguera’s Maria, seemed faceless to me. When people start dying – inevitable in a zombie movie, I felt nothing because the movie never takes the time to develop the characters and get us to care about any of them. And when the movie did try to make us remember a character, like Matthias Schweighöfer’s Ludwig, who’s meant to be the comedic relief, I could not care less about the words coming out of his boring mouth. I did however absolutely adore all the female characters in this movie. I felt like all the women were so much cooler, capable, and had more intriguing backstories than any of the men. I would have loved to see Nora Arnezeder’s Lily lead this team rather than Bautista. The cast are playing characters with potential for such fun, that it makes me even more disappointed that wasn’t more of a comedy. 

The premise of Army of the Dead is a good idea for a movie, I just didn’t enjoy the execution. I cannot believe that this movie has been out for a week and already has a prequel, animated series, and potential sequel in development. Wow. That’s a lot for a movie that’s not the most captivating. If you’re going to watch Army of the Dead, trust me when I say that you’re good to do other stuff while you’re watching. Go to the kitchen and spend a while making a snack, and then run back into the room when you hear zombie screams. Because seriously you guys, TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

Have you seen Army of the Dead? What are your favourite zombie movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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