Army of the Dead is headed to Netflix on May 21, 2021. If you’re a Zack Snyder fan, there’s plenty to love here. If you’re not, well…watch it for Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer, and alpha zombies.
What’s an alpha zombie, you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment!
Army of the Dead focuses on a ragtag group of mercenaries who enter a quarantined Las Vegas to steal a cool $200 million from the vault in a high-profile casino. Why is it quarantined? An army convoy accidentally unleashed a zombie plague that the government miraculously managed to completely contain inside Sin City, which makes them more effective than any other governing body in the history of the genre.
Sadly, the editors on the film were not as judicious. Army of the Dead comes in at a bloated two and a half hours that easily could have been between one and a half to two hours and would have saved the film from its often bogged-down pacing.
Did we really need the fourth and fifth subplots that extended and re-extended the ending? Probably not, but again, this is a post-Justice League Zack Snyder film. If only the guy who had directed the remake of Dawn of the Dead had shown up instead.
Now, I really don’t mind a long run time. I’m a sucker for the extended edition Lord of the Rings films after all, and I recognize that might make me sound like a bit of a hypocrite here. However, Army of the Dead would seriously have benefitted if Snyder had dropped some of the unnecessary subplots to punch up the main storyline of the film.
Example, almost all of the character development is packed into the first five to ten minutes of the movie in a montage. I’m all for an action flick with no character development at all. Ninja Assassin is a brilliant example of this type of film. The problem here is that Snyder obviously wants us to care about these characters. He walks us right up to the line of empathy repeatedly throughout the film without ever sticking the landing, and then seems to forget what he was doing.
It’s frustrating for the viewer, and you could almost see in a couple of scenes that it was frustrating for the actors, as well.
Speaking of actors, this film really has a great cast. Dave Bautista proves he can lead well, though I still wish he’d been given more to do. Sadly, there were times when he seemed bored on screen. That malaise can be felt in almost all of the performances in the film. Omari Hardwick has mad fighting skills, but there are definite signs of going through the motions.
The two real standouts, as I mentioned earlier, are Notaro and Schweighöfer. They’re the only two actors who seem to be having a really good time in the film.
Notaro famously joined Army of the Dead after another actor was removed from the film amidst accusation of sexual misconduct and harassment. She was brought in and added via green-screen and several re-shoots, and it’s possible this is what allowed her to tap into a different energy than the rest of the cast. Her tongue-in-cheek performance as a helicopter pilot who joins the heist simply to have something to do is absolutely a highlight.
As for Schweighöfer, his nervous safecracker, Dieter, simply stole my heart. Here is a guy in the midst of a zombie outbreak who has never really used a gun before much less had to fight for his life in any real sense. He takes on the job in a quest–not for money–but to take on the most badass safe in the world: the Götterdämmerung, aptly named after Wagner’s opera about the end of the world.
Then there are the zombies of Army of the Dead. They come in two categories: shamblers and alphas. Shamblers are the zombies most folks are used to. Alphas are not only faster and stronger, but they also think, form attachments, and communicate with each other.
What’s fascinating about that, is it allows the audience to develop a certain amount of empathy for them. They’re living their lives in their own little quarantined world, and thanks to the walls built around Las Vegas, they’re really not hurting anyone. It’s only when humans enter their domain that the real trouble begins.
Now, if I understand correctly:
- If a person is bitten by a shambler, they become a shambler.
- If a person is bitten by an alpha, they still become a shambler.
- However, if a person is bitten by Zeus, king of the Alphas, then they become an Alpha.
That mostly makes sense, except that toward the end of the film, they make a truck-sized plothole and drive right on through concerning the amount of time it takes someone to turn.
Look, despite all of this, Army of the Dead is not a terrible movie. Some of it is really fun, and the action sequences can get pretty intense. If you go into it expecting only that, then you should be fine. However, the film was almost sold as Ocean’s Eleven with zombies, and that is a promise that it just never fulfills.
If you’ve not seen the trailer for Army of the Dead, check it out below, and look for it on Netflix on May 21, 2021.