Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★

I had high hopes for Army of the Dead. How do you mess up a zombie heist movie? If you’re Snyder, you do so by stretching a nice 100 minute plot into 2.5 hours. Shunting characters and subplots and ostensible set-up into oblivion. Overloading the opening credits with mayhem until the rest of the runtime can’t measure up. Presenting intriguing bits of world-building that never really go anywhere and playing loose with rules. Attempting an emotional arc that’s clunky at best and ridiculously unearned at worst. Ending with a final act that implodes any good will and a sequel hook that lands with a rotten leaden thud.

Ocean’s Eleven meets Day of the Dead, while Aliens, Resident Evil, and Z-Nation tag along for extra spice. I rewatched 2004’s Dawn of the Dead ahead of seeing this, and the differences between restrained Snyder and Snyder unfettered couldn’t be more pronounced. Everyone’s a character out of a graphic novel, which works for some, leaves others as barely more than traits and quips. The length doesn’t let the pace breathe, but just means Snyder throws every idea and stylistic indulgence into the pot. There’s a fantastic premise here - casino caper in a zombie-overrun Vegas before it’s nuked - but Army of the Dead misses the mark as a heist flick, while cramming most of the fun zombie action into the final half hour. 

Why does a casino have countermeasures installed by the trap designers of Umbrella labs and Indiana Jones temples? Why would you cast Sanada in a thankless role that doesn’t even have any pay-off? Why put so much emphasis on Hardwick’s awesome saw but then never use it? Why do some zombies have glowing blue eyes and look like a Terminator after getting shot?

The frenetic splattery opening, a Vasquez homage that brings some John Wick energy to the action, and the siege set-pieces in the back half were all entertaining highlights. Despite feeling undercooked, the alpha zombie clan was an intriguing idea too, working as a Romero tribute. I liked Dave Bautista as a leading man, but this project was far more miss than hit. Occasionally amusing and entertaining in its dumb indulgences, yet overwhelmingly frustrating and disappointing for the exact same reasons. Army of the Dead is certainly a modern Snyder movie through and through, can’t deny that.

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