Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★

"Scott, was that a zombie in a goddamn cape?

With ambitions both novel and gonzo, Army of the Dead suitably echoes George A. Romero's cynical sensibilities rather than cheaply copying them, looking upon the times with a degree of delicacy known only to Zack Snyder—so, like a brick to glass—while mustering a few moments of mournful mutuality understood on screen and off. The film is at its strongest when you're able to encounter the minutia of this heightened world, to experience these characters within a day-to-day structure that gives a palpable, almost refreshingly mundane sense to them and their environment while keeping the genre dressing plentiful. And on a conceptual level, there's a great deal of imaginatively wild shit here, some of which may be too big for this flick's britches (the time loop theory is best digested as symbolic, not literal) while other ideas slap a giddy grin across your face (yes, the zombie kingdom and Area 51 angles rock).

It's so evident when the film succeeds, a grisly smattering of achievements made whole by a penultimate sequence that doubles down on the pessimism and weariness established prior. You're damn near rooting for Snyder when his vision actually connects. But, of course, all is far from perfect in paradise, or hell. What worth Army of the Dead possesses is met by equally—if not greater—potent missteps that make this more of a frustrating, ugly mess rather than a strictly entertaining one.

Where to begin. The cast coast on their natural draw instead of actual narrative merit. From the characterization to the emotional terrain and personal conflicts, each are operating at the very bare minimum and with little uniformity or organic effect. Not only are these beats stale, but the writing is so irregular that some feel as though they start and end in the span of single scenes. It doesn't help that the overall tone is just as uneven, in addition to generally poor dialogue and derivative turns (RLM's review really highlights that last point). The drama lands far more than the often limp humor, Dave Bautista acting his best as a reliable, and likable, anchor amid troubled waters. Even in a piece trying to be as character dependent as this, these issues could be mitigated if the action and horror deliver, which they sometimes do, but the unnecessary 148-minute runtime guarantees that every problem is given a chance to marinate and multiply. Also, I admire Snyder's workman-like attitude on this project, but his shallow focus cinematographic decisions stick out for all of the wrong reasons (I understand the intention, but it's still distracting). Furthermore, he needs to abandon these pointless, sequel-grubbing epilogues that tank what was already heading downhill.

Army of the Dead isn't entirely a swing and a miss. Many of the components and concepts are engaging enough to keep your eyes on the screen. Even some of the more suspenseful and carnage-heavy moments get your heart rate going. But it's disappointing when all of the aforementioned is accomplished, yet Snyder and co-screenwriters Shay Hatten and Joby Harold still fail to develop any absorbing dynamics, a truly original story, bearable dialogue, or a remotely steady tone within a runtime that's not at all justified. The first half hour promises so much, as do some later sequences, setting expectations that this director ultimately can't bleed for all they're worth in this action-heist-horror slog.

I don't know if this is marginally preferable to Snyder's Dawn of the Dead or not (I suppose by personal rating it isn't), but they're essentially in the same league of dissatisfaction. For all of its budget, star power, and creative potential, Army of the Dead is worth little in the end. Spend your time with Romero's zombie series if you're looking for proper horror with both brains and terror.

"Forever is a long time."

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