Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead was billed as a spiritual successor to his remake of Dawn of the Dead – and right off the bat, you know practically everything you need to know. Alternatively, Army of the Dead could be summarized with the words: “What if zombies took over Las Vegas, and people wanted to recover the city’s cash?”
Attempting to breathe life into well-trodden ground by adding an extra subgenre is an interesting gimmick, and its just about enough to serve as a hook for Army of the Dead. So, on the promise of action, horror, and a good old-fashioned heist, Zack Snyder took us for a two-and-a-half-hour ride.
After establishing how the zombie outbreak began, there’s an opening credits scene in which it’s shown that the military intervention failed, and that the government simply quarantined Las Vegas. Army of the Dead then skips ahead six years, to when former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is seen flipping burgers to make ends meet. He’s approached by former casino owner to recover $200 million of forgotten cash from a vault beneath the city, and Ward then gathers a team. He recruits his former teammates Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro), and sharpshooter Guzman (Raúl Castillo). Just to really swell the cast, a few more characters tag along, including Ward’s daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell) and former casino employee Martin (Garrett Dillahunt).
Army of the Dead‘s overstuffed ensemble cast is every bit as overwhelming as it sounds. There’s really only a few characters who are given any real depth, and it’s clear almost from the moment of their introduction what their respective fates will be. Combined with the casting of lesser-known actors for practically every role, this makes most of film’s central characters feel flat and uninteresting.
The film is saved by the work of three actors: Bautista, Schweighöfer, and Hardwick. The latter two actors bring a considerable amount of comedy and charisma, and Bautista lends some genuinely impressive acting to proceedings. There are still plenty of moments where he’s still clearly very much a former wrestler turned action star, but he also adds some depth to his character that helps give Army of the Dead some actual stakes.
Outside of that, Army of the Dead is fairly bland, story-wise. The heist elements of the film are relatively formulaic, and are only made interesting by the addition of zombies. However, Snyder’s zombies are of a different breed: they’re more akin to intelligent pack animals than they are the shambling corpses that traditionally populate the genre. This is an interesting innovation, but it’s not one that’s explored as much as it deserves to be, which gives Army of the Dead the feel of a film that spread itself way too thin in terms of capitalizing on all of its ambition.
One major point in Army of the Dead‘s favor is its presentation. Visually, it’s everything that could be hoped for – the zombies look excellent, there’s handfuls of visual gags that make use of the film’s desolate Vegas setting, all realized in true Snyder fashion. There are a few moments in which the film makes use of CGI that could have been better (most notably the zombie tiger), but overall, Army of the Dead looks great.
On paper, Army of the Dead has a lot going for it, but in truth it really just wasn’t particularly interesting. Despite decent visuals and a theoretically sound premise, it simply wasn’t overly enthralling, and it did very little to make its audience genuinely care. That said, it does have franchise potential, and with an ending that all but promises a sequel, a solid follow-up story could well salvage Snyder’s plans for the future.
Summary: Sound visuals and a decent premise aren’t enough to make Army of the Dead anything more than a relatively flat action-horror. It’s has the potential to be considered a decent origin story, though, providing Snyder can iron out the wrinkles for a follow-up.