One of the biggest releases this weekend was Zack Snyder’s zombie blockbuster, Army of the Dead which made it’s way to Netflix on Friday. After his success with his Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004 (the original of which is arguably the best zombie film of all time), it was great to hear that Snyder was returning to the apocalypse on an even bigger scale. Boasting an all star cast and a unique concept, Army of the Dead sees Las Vegas overrun by zombies who are swiftly contained within the area. The survivors who managed to escape the containment are approached by a casino owner who gives them the task of getting back into Vegas to his casino and getting $200 million that has been stored in its underground vault before Vegas is nuked by the government. The survivors, led by Scott (Dave Bautista) have to face zombies that have super speed and strength while also facing an intense countdown.
Army of the Dead was greenlit in 2007 but faced a series of problems in pre-production before Netflix bought the rights in 2019. Unfortunately, a lot films that experience development hell for long periods of time like Army of the Dead suffer due to constant rewrites and differing directorial visions. This seems to be the case with the film. While the concept and basic idea has a lot of promise, the actual execution seems to clash in a lot of ways which causes the pacing of the script and characterisation to suffer. We see the initial outbreak take place over a ten minute montage at the beginning followed by forty minutes of set up before we even revisit the site. While setting up a plot isn’t a bad thing by any means, it feels as though the introductions for each character are too brief and not characterised enough, especially Scott.
In the leading role of Scott, Dave Bautista does a great job bringing that action star quality to the film. He does the best with the material written and his chemistry with the other survivors, especially his friend, Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera). Where the film fails Bautista’s character is the way they try to push his relationship with his estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell). Sadly, it feels like the dialogue between them is artificially forced whereas there is a much more natural chemistry between Scott and Maria so having more scenes between them would have enhanced their characterisation and made the film that much stronger
With a huge cast, it’s inevitable that not everyone is going to get the same amount of attention or screentime which can affect the characterisation. The most controversial being Tig Notaro’s character, Marianne, who has her main bulk of screentime in the final act of the film as the character had to be recast during filming which meant that they only had limited time with Notaro. Considering Marianne is the pilot who is tasked with getting the group in and out of Vegas, she definitely would have been in it more was Notaro cast in the role from the very beginning. What we do see from Notaro is great and she brings her signature deadpan delivery which makes the final scenes of the film really enjoyable to watch. Another great supporting turn is from Matthias Schweighöfer who plays locksmith expert, Dieter, whose job is to break into the safe. As one of the smaller characters in the ensemble, it wasn’t expected that he would be given a lot of characterisation beyond the basics or screentime but what we do see is great. Schweighöfer’s performance is charismatic and funny, bringing a lighter touch to the film.
When watching a zombie film, the most important aspect is the design and special effects involved. This is definitely a plus for the film as the zombies are a similar design from Snyder’s remake Dawn of the Dead making it believable that it could be within the same universe. At the same time, there are more unique inclusions such as a zombie tiger as well as some comical touches such as a zombie Elvis who is featured in the montage at the beginning. It feels as though there is a lighthearted approach to some of the ideas while still maintaining the gore level expected from such a film.
Overall, Army of the Dead is a film that is full of interesting ideas and if you are a fan of zombie flicks, it’s definitely worth a watch. However, it seems that there is tightness missing from the story as the pacing suffers badly while the two and a half hour running time could have easily been cut down to create a better viewing experience. It would be great to see if this film receives a sequel that furthers the story and hopefully brings a sharper focus to the characters and the writing. In the meantime, there is a prequel and an anime series in the works that will look into the characters before and during the events of Army of the Dead so hopefully, we’ll get to know the characters a lot better.
What did you think of Army of the Dead? Let me know in the comments below!
Army of the Dead is available to watch on Netflix now!