Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★★

The consensus I'm hearing on this averages out somewhere in the realm of tepid positivity - there aren't a lot of viscerally negative takes out there, but not a lot in the way of rapturous acclaim either. I think consensus about has the right of it; I really didn't have strong feelings one way or the other. I think the fusion of zombie apocalypse with a heist caper is a strong hook, and the sense of epic scale works for it. One wonders if Snyder had his old colleague Chris Nolan's Inception in mind when it came to hybridising a caper plot with a more far-fetched genre to give it an extra shot of intensity and grandeur. There are some character interactions that land, although I never really felt the unit cohered as a unit so much as a petri dish for separate one-to-one interactions. And the various sources of tension pretty effectively escalate for a satisfying third-act climax; the languorous running time didn't bother me that much, as I felt the plot mechanisms' screws being tightened throughout.

On the other hand, Army of the Dead is consistently hampered by the feeling that it can't find its emotional register. It genuflects in the direction of trying to be punky and anarchic, but it's never particularly funny, and its overtures toward social satire don't have any claws. Correspondingly, the moves for genuine pathos fall flat when it's hard to shake the sense that this is nothing but a frivolous pastiche, an undemanding exercise in genre mechanics intended as dessert after the heavy main meal that was the Snydercut. The myriad influences it's drawing on are plain to see: Dawn of the Dead, Oceans' 11, Aliens and Escape from New York are only the most obvious. But they all feel like satellites whirring around an absent nucleus. In the final reckoning, Army of the Dead doesn't have anything of its own to add; it seems to have been conceived as a wish-list of cool images and concepts and references, without much idea of what feelings or ideas those items would communicate to the viewer. I'm actually reminded of no one antecedent so much as Neil Marshall's Doomsday, also a mix-tape disguised as an original IP.

This is, to be clear, fine. Nowhere is it written in granite a movie has to be more than just fannying about, having fun reconstituting, remixing and recombining more primal creative endeavours. And this is perfectly satisfying fannying about, as it goes. Better than Doomsday; yeah, the shallow-focus cinematography kept kept convincing me something was off with my TV's settings, but at least it wasn't edited by a blind lumberjack, so Snyder - 1, Marshall - 0, I guess.

And yes, FWIW: there's on-the-nose, there's on-the-nose by Zack Snyder standards, and then there's needledropping The Cranberries in your zombie movie.

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