Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★★½

Watched on Netflix

"Army of the Dead" is director Zack Snyder's second film this year, following the four-hour long "Justice League" which I still haven't seen. It is his first Netflix film and one of the biggest Netflix blockbuster highlights of the year and was even given an early cinema release in the USA. Now the return to the bloody zombie genre by the "Dawn of the Dead" director is also being released worldwide on the streaming provider. Matthias Schweighöfer is in the middle of the 90 million dollar spectacle. Yes, that's right! The German film star, who is more known for unfunny comedies (my opinion), goes Hollywood and is now at the muscle-bound side of former WWE superstar Dave Bautista. From a German perspective, one of my big questions in the run-up to the film was how this was supposed to fit together. The result is all the more surprising. Matthias Schweighöfer is the undisputed highlight of a damn entertaining zombie blockbuster.

"Army of the Dead" is set in Las Vegas overrun by zombies. Unlike other genre representatives, however, the rest of the world is intact, only the city has become a zombiefied quarantine zone, which is now to be razed to the ground. Before a nuclear bomb reduces the city to rubble, a group of mercenaries go to the city to crack a 200 million dollar safe and make big money. The story by Zack Snyder, who in addition to writing and directing also took over the camera and the job as producer, is thus kept quite simple and mixes various genres. But mainly "Army of the Dead" is a mixture between a zombie actioner and a heist film.

I'll be brief: the story is not the film's greatest strength. It merely forms the basic framework of the film and serves as a hook for the entertaining action. However, "Army of the Dead" is not entirely without innovation. The fact that the zombie apocalypse only takes place within the quarantine zone is a nice idea and the intrigue system within the zombies is a successful change. The zombies are not only incredibly fast and agile, but also have particularly strong and intelligent leaders with whom you can even negotiate. An idea that I personally like very much, because the slow shuffling zombies alà "The Walking Dead" are really outdated now. However, one should not look for gaps in logic. The leader of the zombies has a scene in which he teleports from one place to another and you have to ask yourself how he got there so quickly. There is also a gigantic connection error in a scene where money is counted before the safe is even open. I don't know how that got screwed up in the editing. But whether that bothers you in this kind of film is up to you.

Zack Synder is probably just as aware of his simple story and doesn't dwell on the insignificant for long. After the prologue in which the original zombie escapes from a military convoy, the back story (how the zombies overran Las Vegas) is told in the extremely brutal intro. After that, mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) assembles his team and after 50 minutes the city is entered. As you can already tell from their generic names, a group of stereotypes await the viewer. Dave Bautista plays the brawny fighter with family problems, and next to him the daredevils take turns. The fact that the characters nevertheless work quite well is due on the one hand to the likeable lead actor, who has limited acting skills but makes up for them with a lot of charisma. Of the cast of ex-wrestlers around Dwayne Johnson and John Cena, I still prefer Bautista (who also gave a performance worth seeing in "Blade Runner 2049"). On the other hand, it's because of one or two highlight characters, like the witty helicopter pilot Marianne Peters, who doesn't care about anything. Stand-up comedienne Tag Notaro, however, was added to the film after the fact, after actor Chris D'Elia, who originally played the role, was dropped from the film because of sexual abuse. However, at no point do you notice that her scenes were reshot and digitally spliced together with the existing footage. The absolute highlight (and I can hardly believe I'm writing this myself), however, is Matthias Schweighöfer. His character, with the beautiful name Dieter, is the canary of the troupe and is completely out of character compared to the tough daredevils. At the same time, this ensures that his character is definitely the most memorable and best. From his annoying questioning, to his shrill screams, Schweighöfer is the comedic highlight of the film and proves to be a reliable scene stealer in all (!) scenes. Schweighöfer's Hollywood debut is a huge success and the role could well mean his international breakthrough. Especially since it is already certain that, in addition to an anime series dedicated to Dave Bautista's back story, a live-action prequel to Schweighöfer's character Dieter will soon be coming. There, the German acting star will not only play the leading role, but also direct the film himself. My earlier scepticism has completely evaporated due to the extremely fun character and I am very curious to see how close Schweighöfer comes to Snyder's original material in terms of directing.

But enough about our German export and back to Zack Snyder. The director is known for his unconditional will to style and his numerous slow-motion sequences, so it should surprise no one that both can also be found in "Army of the Dead". Snyder is a feisty director who I have mostly liked outside of the DC universe as he simply knows how blockbuster cinema works. A strength he can finally play to again in "Army of the Dead". The action scenes are fast-paced but clearly filmed, the slow-motion shots are right on the money, and beyond that, the violence runs through the film like a bloody thread. "Army of the Dead" is not a squeamish film and has at least earned its age rating. Especially in the hard-hitting intro, the action is hearty and the blood fountains splash happily across the screen. Of course, the action is always staged with a wink. The brutality ultimately increases the entertainment factor of the action, which is also enjoyable thanks to the great soundtrack. "Mad Max" composer Tom Holkenborg is responsible for the soundtrack and is particularly convincing in the tense warehouse scene, but also later in the epic finale.

In terms of effects, "Army of the Dead" operates at a high level, but a few scenes seem a little soft-edged. The large zombie horde at the beginning, for example, or the helicopter scene at the end of the film. For 90 million dollars, however, the Netflix film looks very high-quality, which is especially true for the excellently animated zombie tiger. Beyond that, Snyder relies mainly on handmade action anyway.

"Army of the Dead" reminds me that I actually like Zack Snyder's films a lot. His films, with the exception of "Watchmen", may not tell the best stories, but Snyder definitely knows how blockbuster cinema works. After years in the DC universe, Snyder is now returning to his old strengths. "Army of the Dead" is a bloody, funny zombie slaughter that entertains with its brutal action scenes and never lets boredom set in despite its sprawling 148-minute running time. And for all those who are now wondering how Matthias Schweighöfer fits into such a film, here's the answer: he doesn't, but that's exactly how his character Dieter is designed. Schweighöfer's hilarious character is the highlight of the film, a strength that Netflix also recognised early on and so Schweighöfer will soon be allowed to direct the prequel to his character himself. I'm looking forward to it, because "Army of the Dead" with its stereotypical characters and simple story may not be free of weaknesses, but it's a damn entertaining Netflix blockbuster!

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