It’s not like there’s a shortage of zombie-based entertainment. Whether TV shows, films, or games, those decaying, meandering, man-eating corpses are everywhere you look. But what if Hollywood offered us a zombie heist movie? That pricked your ears up didn’t it? 🙄 No, me neither. The truth is: those Tinsel Town numpties could make a zombie space movie, a zombie superhero movie, or a zombie period drama, and it still wouldn’t stop their chosen genre mash-up from being a worn-out concept clinging-on for dear life like the umpteenth season of The Walking Dead. Adding to this ever-growing hoard of apocalyptic films about flesh-eaters is Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead. Streaming on Netflix from today, their on-screen blurb describes it as: “After a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries takes the ultimate gamble by venturing into the quarantine zone for the greatest heist ever.” Aside from this idea being as stale as Mr. Snyder’s dream Subway sandwich, Army Of The Dead is yet another disappointing film from Zack “High Contrast Extended Music Video” Snyder who has created another soulless film devoid of fun or scares…
With its wannabe Watchmen opening credit sequence (basically a music video) the film starts off like it’ll be something worthwhile but like Watchmen, it goes downhill from there. Opening with a military transportation convoy leaving Area 51 and a conversation about various conspiracies, this seems like another reverse-psychology anti-conspiracy-theory flick courtesy of contemporary Hollywood (along with Godzilla vs. Kong). Instead of bashing conspiracy theorists, the media’s new tactic is to co-opt them, but, when you mix that with some veiled militarism, you’re left with a boring and rather dull wannabe-blockbuster.
So is Zack “I Wish I Was George Romero” Snyder’s latest film anything to do with his very average 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead? Is it set in the same “universe” (yawn) or does Snyder just have a hard-on for dead writer-directors or zombies (or both)? It seems like the latter option is true. Instead of a mall or a military base we have a casino. This may sound like an update in zombie-film terms but with its walled-in city and a countdown, the plot clearly wishes it was John Carpenter’s Escape from New York but the end result is much closer to Neil Marshall’s Doomsday.
In terms of the heist, yes a bunch of likeable characters stealing millions of dollars from a casino vault is potentially fun to watch, but there’s no getting away from the fact that characters likeable or not, being under threat from the undead could only be enjoyable before the over-saturation of zombie programming that’s occurred over the last two decades. Add these two concepts together and the casino-set theft had better be something to compensate for the hackneyed living dead theme, you know, meticulous and clever planning and thinking on one’s feet when an unexpected obstacle comes your way. So is the safe-cracking tense? Is Army Of The Dead an Italian Job? No. Is it an Italian Job remake? Nope. It’s not even one of those wannabe-slick-but-overrated Oceans movies. This crap is closer to The Last Days Of American Crime. It’s loud, tacky, but hollow and devoid of character, kinda like Las Vegas itself.
For a so-called zombie heist action movie, there’s way too much talking and not enough energy, peril, or thrills. For the first hour nothing really happens, then there’s lull after lull. With our military grunts and their YouTuber companion (another yawn) wandering around, talking, shooting a few zombies and going back to wandering, the film would have been better served by being edited-down to under two hours. It’s not a good sign when you check the time to see when a movie will end. Although I’ll add that at two hours and twenty-eight minutes long, yes this is long but hey, at least it isn’t the almost-four-hours of Justice League.
There’s so much wrong with Army Of The Dead aside from writing, direction, acting, and length. Firstly, at the start of the film when cuts of the 50 million from the full 200 million dollars is being offered to the team, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t tally up. And hey, when you’re offering random sums of money and getting tooled-up for your deadly mission, maybe wear armour on your naked arms given that zombies tend to be a bit bitey. The film is also littered with cover songs including an appalling rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” and the bastardisation of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” (how clever… not). This is in addition to giving work to Donald Trump‘s Press Secretary Sean Spicer who now has an IMDb page. And oh yeah, the alpha zombies including the pregnant “queen” all move around like an interpretive dance troupe which looks corny; cornier than the mercenary name “Las Vengeance”.
Aside from the cringey moments, the plot has a ticking clock in the form of a nuke heading to Las Vegas but there’s no quickening of pace when the deadline increases, plus once the mercenaries get inside the safe, they’d rather chuck money about even though they’re all aware there’s an impending nuclear bomb. There’s also a couple of CGI zombie animals; a horse and a tiger (although the horse doesn’t seem to thirst for blood at all). I’ll admit that a zombie tiger sounds good, that is until you see the finished product. This tiger is said to belong to Siegfried and Roy, but given that they retired in the late noughties, why is their kitty still in Vegas? In any case, Siegfried and Roy’s dead cat isn’t as good an idea as zombie Siegfried and zombie Roy but this movie isn’t in the same collapsed vein as Zombieland.
Whilst on the topic of comedy, Tig Notaro has been digitally-inserted over Chris D’Elia which is all the rage with sexual misconduct allegations and shite films it seems (Ridley… cough… Scott). Tig for the most part looks like she’s interacting with non-existent actors but I guess Chris’ talentless arse would have done the same despite him being on the actual set. And when it comes to comedy, there is none, even though the screenplay tries its best to be one of those rag-tag action comedies. There’s crappy scenes such as Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” playing in an elevator but it’s just not funny. The dialogue is also far from humourous, in fact all of the interactions the characters have fall flat in terms of humour and emotion.
So, who of our grunt heroes will be devoured, who will turn into a zombie, and will our main protagonist Scott (Dave Bautista) reconnect with his daughter? Nobody gives a helicopter-flying-fuck because Snyder’s direction and story (which has been fashioned into a shoddy screenplay by Shay Hatten and Joby Harold) is so lacking in emotional engagement that you couldn’t care less about anyone. After all the setup and all the promises, nothing is achieved by the end of the film. Maybe leaving Vegas with not much money was the point, but I doubt it. By the end we the audience are left with a depressing and disappointing finish with our protagonists dead alongside the potential of a New Mexico-set sequel but please Netflix, don’t bother funding that shite.
Zombie (or alien parasite) films used to be produced at times when society was acting like, err… zombies. Talented film-makers used this narrative to comment on mass herds of non-individuals listening to and obeying their leaders or going along with the status quo. This seems to be a coincidence when it comes to Army Of The Dead (the potential comment about the Coronavirus via a temperature test) since Hack Snyder’s film has been in the works since 2007. Snyder, judging by his quick edit of praying Muslims in the opener of Dawn Of The Dead followed by the pro-western-white 300, was all-for mass-hysteria and group-think in the form of patriotism and Islamophobia post-9/11, so there’s no subversive, non-mainstream metaphors here. Army Of The Dead isn’t an allegory about contemporary society, it’s just a dumb, popcorn heist, sorry… popcorn, zombie heist movie and if you like both your heists and your zombies (and your directors) extremely dumb this is the picture for you. For the rest of us, this is…
Dead On Arrival.