Zack Snyder is a filmmaker who started his career with a remake of Dawn of the Dead and has been known for making comic book movies. He combines the zombie genre with his comic book style with Army of the Dead.
Las Vegas has suffered from a zombie breakout and the American government has blockaded the city. The American President plans to launch a tactical at Las Vegas to rid the world of zombies, and it would be really cool. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) gets an offer from Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a casino owner who has $200 million in his Las Vegas vault. Bly promise Scott and his team they can keep $50 million if they can retrieve the money before the nuke is launch.
Army of the Dead is a film that Netflix has pinned a lot on. It has a large budget for a Netflix film, and it is set to start a multimedia franchise. A prequel film, anime series, and TV series are set to be released and a sequel has been proposed. It was a film Snyder had a big hand in because as well as directing, he produced it, co-wrote the screenplay, and was even the cinematographer. However, Army of the Dead was a lesser effort from the divisive filmmaker.
Snyder wanted to make the ultimate genre mash-up. It was a zombie horror, an action flick, and a heist film all in one. It had the potential to be a film that gorehounds could lap up, but it failed to live up to the hype.
The big problem with Army of the Dead was one that affects a lot of current zombie media: oversaturation. Since The Walking Dead started airing there have been a lot of zombie films, shows, and video games. It’s hard for anything to stand out. Army of the Dead tries to stand out by being a heist film but still felt derivative. The setting and tone of Army of the Dead seemed like the Dead Rising games. It was even structured like a video game.
Even when Snyder and his team did try to do something different it still felt like it was lifted from other properties. The zombies in Las Vegas were split into two types. There were traditional zombies and Alphas, more intelligent zombies that had formed a primitive society. This was similar to the White Walkers in Game of Thrones who had the intelligent leaders and the living dead who were the grunts. Army of the Dead even shared a plot point from the third season of Game of Thrones where it was revealed people made sacrifices to the zombies.
Army of the Dead also had cliches from the heist and action genres. When Scott was assembling his crew, it felt like the Rick and Morty episode “One Crew over the Crewoo’s Morty” because it was so easy. I’m surprised the crew members didn’t say ‘you son of a bitch, I’m in.’ Like many action and heist films, Army of the Dead had characters who had their own agendas and were willing to betray their colleagues.
Being unoriginal can be forgiven if a film it’s fun. Army of the Dead had the potential, but Snyder can be an indulgent filmmaker. He released a four-hour cut of Justice League and with Army of the Dead he delivered a two-and-half long film. Army of the Dead didn’t need to be that long. There was a scene that the film was trying to establish the world and rules for the potential sequels, but the story was thin. It could have come in at a lean 105 minutes.
Snyder’s greatest attribute is his visuals. Even his more criticized films like Sucker Punch and Batman vs. Superman had a distinctive style and he’s usually able to craft some excellent action sequences. Army of the Dead lacked the panache that Snyder’s known for. The action was lacking because there was no sense of style or invention. One of the oddest decisions Snyder made was having loads of out-of-focus shots. It got so annoying that I wanted to shout ‘hire a focus puller!’
Snyder has been seen as a director who takes an overly dark and serious approach. His DC films suffered from this. With Army of the Dead, he made a conscious effect to lighten things up. There were a lot more jokes that were usually expected from a Snyder film. Matthias Schweighöfer’s Dieter was the comic relief character. He was a safe cracker who was excited to work in the abandoned casino, but not so keen on facing the living dead. Stand-up comedian Tig Notaro had a prominent supporting role, and her character had a causal approach to the mission.
Army of the Dead did have some fun moments. When the team go into the casino filled with dormant zombies it had a chilling atmosphere. The characters had to move past them slowly and quietly because they were surrounded. It was an effective horror moment. When the team reached the vault they had to use a zombie to set off all the traps. It allowed for some gory fun.
Army of the Dead should have been a fun gory romp because of its simple premise. What Snyder delivered was an overly long and dull film that stretched a thin premise. It lacked the sense of flash and style that Snyder’s known for.