Army Of The Dead Review

Having duly resurrected and delivered the cinematic curate’s egg that was ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE, all eyes eagerly turned west to Nevada to see what Snyder would do nest because he sure as shit wasn’t going to go to Disneyland. Instead, he accepted a suitcase of money from Netflix in exchange for launching a new franchise by teasing an ultimately non-existent connection to one of his earliest, and best, films.

It starts in the most Zack Snyder way possible as a session of road head results in a head-on collision with an army unit inexplicably transporting an infected zombie victim across the Nevada desert. With the amorous couple killed on impact, the escapee makes quick work of the military escort, converting them into undead followers and beginning a march on the bright lights of Las Vegas.

The opening titles are bright, ballsy and tantalisingly witty as Snyder quickly essays the fall of sin city – replete with topless zombie showgirls, a faux Liberace and some truly exceptional death scenes (none better, perhaps, than the hapless paratrooper descending inexorably into a ravening horde of the undead) all to the strains of, what else, “Viva Las Vegas”.

Synder’s always had the musical palate of a drunk “Homes Under The Hammer” sound editor on payday, but with ARMY OF THE DEAD he outdoes himself for obviousness and, in one particular song selection, crass ignorance. Still, if the film had managed to maintain the energy and invention of the opening fifteen minutes, you could probably have overlooked such hackneyed juke boxing but alas, the titles flatter to deceive – and secure Netflix’s all-important ‘viewed’ stat – before Zack Snyder settles in to telling his actual story, his way.

ARMY OF THE DEAD takes us deep into Zack Snyder, auteur territory. Not only are we in his hands as Director, but he produces – alongside his wife Deborah and long-time production partner Wesley Coller, wrote the story and the screenplay and even serves as his own cinematographer. Oh, my apologies…director of photography. To that last role, you’ll be reassured to hear that he brings a depth of focus every bit as shallow as his characters and themes. Always a Director of style over substance, here the style becomes distractingly intrusive and so optically confusing that I’d wager one of the reasons this didn’t get a wide cinema release was that theatres weren’t prepared to put up with all the complaints about their projectionists.

Having introduced his cast of characters by name during the credits in a way that doubles down on the laziness of introducing the rest of the JUSTICE LEAGUE with literal YouTube clips in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, Snyder does the bare minimum to flesh them out any further in a set up that’s as slow as it is uninteresting. With the walled-off city of Las Vegas ready and waiting, it still takes forty-five minutes before Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) saddles up and gets his movable feast underway.

Bautista is one of the most interesting actors to have followed the sports celebrity into movie star path, so it’s a shame that he’s forced to subsist on such thin material in ARMY OF THE DEAD. Unfortunately, his character is written with all the subtlety and élan of a mid-nineties Steven Segal character and it’s hard not to see Scott as a store brand Casey Rybeck redux, only without the smirking sense of ironic fun. Fun is one of the things that Snyder doesn’t find time for in his expansive running time, along with character development, coherent subplots, logic and, most surprising of all, incident. Even Tig Notaro (a post-production replacement for Chris D’Elia) can’t breathe much life into this bloated corpse of a movie and she’s singlehandedly capable of salvaging entire episodes of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY singlehandedly. Only Matthias Schweighöfer seems to be having a good time and is kind enough to occasionally share that with the audience. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-fortunately-miss-it cameo from Sean Spicer and, honestly, fuck that guy and anyone who casts him in anything.

For a film called ARMY OF THE DEAD, it’s conspicuously short on actual armies, but then it’s also pretty sparsely populated with actual zombies (there’s only so many times you can tweak, change and enhance an idea before it’s not really the same idea any more). What undead there are seem to be composed of dance majors and enthusiastic volunteers. There’s an archly am-dram interpretive dance feel to their massing and attacks, so much so that you expect some of them to stalk their victims with WEST SIDE STORY-style tough guy finger snapping. Some of the character deaths are jarringly laugh-out-loud funny, most are rote and none are particularly memorable, perhaps thanks to the hopelessly contrived and unnecessarily prolonged ending.

There are some decent set pieces, of course, but the real surprise is the quantity of dead (pun intended) space the movie has where nothing much happens and characters spend time walking from one place to the other. You can add LORD OF THE RINGS, then, to the list of obvious influences alongside the likes of GAME OF THRONES, I AM LEGEND and nearly every Don Simpson/ Jerry Bruckheimer produced Michael Bay film. There’s also a blindingly obvious hidden agenda involving one of the mercenary crew and there’s another character who looks a bit like Vasquez so of course given the armed incursion into infested territory, it’s tempting to make comparisons to ALIENS. But comparing ARMY OF THE DEAD to James Cameron’s 1986 sequel is as one-sided as comparing a McDonald’s all-beef patty to a medium-rare Waygu sirloin.

For all its hype and bluster, Snyder’s undead magnus opus is an astonishingly empty film, devoid of the one thing his films usually have going for them which is impressive visuals. The Las Vegas sets look cheap, tacky and superficial – much like Vegas itself – and you start to suspect the egregious shallow focus is more to disguise how low-rent the whole thing is. Without that distraction visual grandeur, what has Snyder got? Apparently, nothing. In the grand Vegas magic show of cinema, he’s all prestige and no pledge.

It’s almost as if years of self-fanned flames of unquestioning adulation and uncritical embracing of his every utterance, half-truth and disingenuous inference has resulted in Zack Snyder losing all filmmaking discipline and diving into arrogant self-indulgence the way Scrooge McDuck swims in a vat of gold coins. I mean, why strive to make things the best they can be when you know your army of sycophantic acolytes will hail anything you do as a masterpiece and ruthlessly hunt down and pillory the non-believers?

If nothing else, ARMY OF THE DEAD proves that Zack Snyder is not the messiah. He’s not even a very naughty boy. He’s just a pretentious, egocentric dudebro who plays with ideas and concepts he only comprehends in the most superficial way.

Score 4

4/10

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