Film & TV

Netflix’s ‘Army of the Dead’ is a Return to Form For Zack Snyder

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Director: Zack Snyder
Date: May 14, 2021 (Limited); May 21, 2021 (Netflix)

R | 2 hour 28 minutes

Zack Snyder has been put through the professional and personal wringer in recent years. After directing two underwhelming additions in the polarizing DC Extended Universe (DCEU), all eyes were on Snyder and the highly anticipated “Justice League.” What should’ve been a landmark cinematic event ended up a box office bomb defined by its tumultuous production. 

The saga of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” — spanning multiple years and full of controversy, feuds with Warner Brothers and a personal tragedy — finally came to end when HBO Max released the four hour cut this past March. 

“Army of the Dead,” Snyder’s (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) first film since “Justice League,” will not have a “Snyder Cut.” Unlike Warner Brothers, Netflix has given Snyder full autonomy to make a movie with an uncompromised vision. While it’s not without its flaws, this zombie heist film is the ultimate Snyder movie — exciting, bloated and boasts tons of graphic violence. 

After the U.S. Army loses a zombie in the most preposterous way, an outbreak occurs in Las Vegas, infecting Sin City and all its inhabitants. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former mercenary, is tasked by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hioryuki Sanada) to venture into the quarantine zone and steal $200 million from his hotel’s vault — all before a nuke annihilates Las Vegas to kill all the zombies. 

Ward takes on the job and creates his team of bank robbers, which includes former teammates Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), safe-cracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and other zany characters with their eyes on the jackpot. The rest of this zombie epic is a gory, formulaic heist movie which — mostly — manages to keep the viewer engaged. 

Like “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” this movie opens with an outstanding opening credit sequence. Without dialogue, Snyder portrays the outbreak in the most entertaining way. Everyone in Las Vegas — from showgirls to tourists to an Elvis impersonator — turns into a zombie in typical Snyder slow-motion. He introduces the main protagonists as they kill zombies, the madness unfolding while two covers of the song “Viva Las Vegas” grace the background and large neon pink text adorns the screen. 

While the diversity of the cast is commendable, no character leaves a lasting impact. Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers: Endgame”) is up to the task when it comes to stabbing zombies’ heads, but is stiff when it comes to acting. Notaro (“Lucy in the Sky,” “Instant Family”) and Schweighöfer (“Valkyrie,” “Kursk”) are responsible for comic relief and, while not all the jokes land, they do an admirable job. 

Sanada’s (“Life,” “Mortal Kombat”) Bly Tanaka deserved more screen time as his villainous arc is barely fleshed out — pun absolutely intended. Snyder doesn’t give much depth to the characters and isn’t able to get a single memorable performance from his cast. 

A staple of Snyder’s films are that they’re 20 to 30 minutes too long and this movie is no exception. At nearly two and a half hours, he could’ve easily trimmed it down to two hours by cutting out the forced emotional scenes. A lazy father-daughter subplot between Scott and his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), unnecessarily drags the messy climax. The same goes for a B-plot featuring Huma Qureshi’s (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) character and her ambiguous adventure into the quarantine zone. 

Snyder doesn’t hold back on the violence. The battles between Scott’s crew and the walking dead are pulpy, cartoonish and amusing — similar to action found in graphic novels. There’s a zombie tiger and zombie horse that only add to the fun. 

The DCEU movies disappointed because they took themselves too seriously by pretending to be dark, gritty adaptations. This movie works because it’s self aware and allows itself to be ridiculous. Snyder isn’t as interested in reinventing the zombie genre as he is in making a visually stimulating, enjoyable movie — and succeeds in doing so.  

After many years, Snyder finally has the ability to let his creative mind take control and create the foundation for a future franchise. It’s refreshing to see Snyder direct a movie free from Warner Brothers’ reins. Not everything works in his latest zombie flick, but it’s Snyder’s best film in years.

“Army of the Dead,” rated R, is now playing in theaters and streaming on Netflix May 21st. 

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