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Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead

The thing is, the house always wins, because the house
is always so selfish

dir: Zack Snyder


I did not expect to be reviewing another movie by Zach Snyder this year. Perhaps I’m putting him up on a pedestal with directors like Terrence Malick, Scorsese, Sally Potter, Kubrick – auteurs who take multiple years to put their masterpieces together for us, the great unwashed masses.

So, yeah, I sat through all 14 hours of his Justice League, and thought “that’s all the Snyder I need for at least a few years”. But then this came out on Netflix a month or so later, and I thought “I don’t want this.”

But it’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse. I mean, there are plenty of movies on Netflix, several ‘exclusives’ even, but eh.

Army of the Dead is not terrible. As a zombie flick, it’s okay. It’s not really a zombie flick, to be honest, but it looks enough like one. What it really is, is an update of Aliens.

Aliens was very popular, in its day, and influenced almost every action sci-fi flick that came after it. It’s only natural that, if Snyder is going to make something passable, it should be based on a better film than anything he’s ever managed.

He started off his celebrated career with Dawn of the Dead, a remake of the George Romero classic, so it’s only natural that he (hopefully) finishes his career with one as well. It has nothing in common with the earlier flicks, other than that there are zombies.

Plus it’s a ‘heist’ picture, and it really is a creature feature as well. There are the usual dumb slow zombies, but there’s also a super uber class of more intelligent ones, that are more like a monster / alien / hybrid. Plus they’re not decaying, and they communicate and coordinate amongst themselves. Probably share recipes, too.

And they have taken over Las Vegas. A zombie, or whatever the super Alpha one was called in the lab, gets loose from the Army during transportation, and is unleashed upon the world because in this version of reality, a newly wed bride just so much can’t wait to suck her husband’s dick that she does so whilst he’s trying to drive them away from Vegas. He is understandably distracted, so much so that he drives into one of the military vehicles, unleashing the zombie apocalypse upon the world.

The intro of the flick, like many of Snyder’s flicks, looks better and is funnier than anything else in the film. Just like the intro into Watchmen, which told 50 years of history in 3 minutes in exquisitely filmed tableaus. Army of the Dead’s intro only tells the story of the “fall” of Las Vegas as the infection hits showgirls who turn on their cruel masters, and of the desperate rescue of some people by some other people, who lose the people they love anyway before Vegas is sealed off from the world by a ring of cargo containers stacked high.

One of those persons is called Scott. Scott is played by Dave Bautista, probably best known either as a wrestler, or for playing Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. He is built like a brick shithouse. He also, fortunately or unfortunately, talks like a brick shithouse as well, in that his very calm voice mostly comes out at a whisper no matter what volume I put the television up to. It’s really quite a juxtaposition between someone who has legs for arms and looks like he could rip a car apart with his bare hands, who whispers politely like a pensioner who doesn’t want to be a bother, but could you help carry her bags to the car, because her arthritis is acting up something fierce? There’s a good dear.

He has a daughter called Kate (Ella Purnell). His daughter does not like him. Fate will throw them together as they are either encouraged or compelled to enter the wasteland that Vegas has become (as compared to the moral and intellectual wasteland that it has always been) in order to further the plot.

Scott is encouraged by some rich bastard called Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to get a team together in order to ‘break’ into Tanaka’s casino in order to get as much of the 200 million dollars in the vault out before the government, wise in this as in all its decisions, nukes Las Vegas once and for all.

There is no monetary motivation for Kate. She works (it’s not clear doing what, though she does wear a t-shirt that says ‘volunteer’) in the refugee camp that sprung up outside of Vegas when the zombie apocalypse happened. Needless to say, most of the people still in the camp are of the background that makes certain Americans very angry. I will leave it to your imagination as to what ethnicity they are. No, not that one, the other one they hate. One of the women from the camp that has kids has gone missing in Vegas, and Kate is determined to go in and bring her back to her kids, at the same time as Scott and his band of merry gun-totting men and women venture in to get all the moneys.

It is a long time before they actually get into Vegas, and the “putting the team together” bit takes a good long while. Yes, it’s very reminiscent of the first hour of Seven Samurai, updated to the modern age. I very much like both that hour of Seven Samurai, and all of The Seven Samurai film for that matter, and all the other variations and permutations achieved in film since then when they put their teams together.

Here, it’s people Scott used to know, some Insta influencers who nonetheless know how to kill zombies, a German safecracker (who’s delightful) and, I dunno, some other fuckers. And Kate, as well, his daughter, don’t forget Kate.

There’s a coyote, used in the context of what Americans call people who lead refugees and freedom seekers into the States across the southern border, but in the context of someone who knows how to get into the sealed city of Sin, and presumably get people out again. She is either called Lily or Coyote (Nora Arnezeder), and I reckon even though she’s French she’s the toughest fucker in the whole flick, and that includes the super zombies and brick shithouse Scott.

There’s also a helicopter pilot called Marianne (Tig Notaro), and she’s funny, as you would expect from a stand-up comic of her caliber. I noticed something strange about her from the very first scene, which is that she is often depicted with a cigar, puffing away. Well, it looked a bit strange, not least of which is because I’m pretty sure she’s not a smoker, considering her well known battle with cancer, but also the cigar and its smoke looked entirely CGI.

What I didn’t figure out during the flick, but found out later, is that the film had been filmed already, with a different actor in that role, being Chris D’Elia. He was, shall we say, digitally removed from the flick after it became known that he sexually harassed and abused various women, including teenagers. He doesn’t get a lot of work anymore, but let’s not forget that in a different age those kinds of allegations got you plenty of work and probably Oscars and buckets of drugs in the past.

So Tig, who to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t harassed, threatened or abused anyone, shot her scenes afterwards and was digitally “inserted” into the flick. That last sentence probably could be phrased better. Anyway, my favourite part of the flick is where she’s emphasising to Scott that almost everyone else is expendable, but she’s the pilot, she’s the only one who can fly them out of there with the cash, so, if it comes down to saving her or someone else, well, keep your eye on the prize.

Once they venture in, the true scale of the (stupidity) problem manifests. The elite zombies have formed some kind of strange society, with a king called Zeus, and a queen. Naturally, they rule at a casino called The Olympus, and, in a nod to his own fascist homoerotic ‘masterpiece’ 300, Zeus swans about in a cape, with a spear and a Spartan-like helmet which protects him from the kind of headshot that spells doom to the other zombies, elite or not.

I’m not entirely sure what his motivation is, but he doesn’t just randomly attack people for their brains. He turns humans into whatever the hell he and his kin are, so that they can stand around screeching at each other as they plan to take over the world. Really, they’re just vampires that can walk around in the daytime. I don’t know that they have much of a plan beyond survival. Or even, at one amazingly horrible stage, it appears they can also have babies(?) I guess if you’re going to be a king, you have to have an heir?

Once they start venturing in, it plays out just like the middle part of Aliens. They start being picked off one by one, the real agenda of some of the betrayers in their midst are revealed, the real conflict at the heart of the flick plays out (between father and daughter), and all of this plays out with the ticking timebomb of the nuclear missile headed their way.

I can’t say that a lot surprised me along the way, but it was not an entirely unenjoyable experience. Some people complain that the flick is two and half hours long, and to that I say – what does it matter when you’re watching it on a streaming service? Everything can be as long as it wants to be when it’s streaming. You can pause. You can come back days later. You can rewind back before you paused it, or pick up where you left off. You’re not missing anything, except possibly momentum. Also, I wonder if these same people complained when his other 4 fucking hour movie came out earlier in the year. You know, the one with Affleck in it. And some other people.

The scene with father trying to apologise to daughter, and daughter saying why she was angry at father; it’s not unusual in cinema. There are probably 44,000 similar scenes in 800,000 movies. The thing that sticks in your mind, though, is when it’s Zach Snyder having a father character trying to apologise to his daughter for letting her down, it’s impossible not to relate it to his daughter committing suicide a few year’s ago, and him wanting to make some kind of penance to her. It’s probably something he’ll be doing for the rest of his life, and I’m never going to mock him for that.

There’s plenty of other stuff to mock him for, though. Though I found the flick enjoyable enough, especially for a Thursday night (which, as I’ve confessed before, involves a modest amount of alcohol), there is something so fundamentally 90s about what he does in his movies, and the soundtracks / scores that go along with it. This is a very big budget movie for something that doesn’t, that shouldn’t need a big budget, and what it translates to is a level of shiny trash that takes itself very deathly seriously.

And there are some Elvis tunes, which are always welcome. The ending is fairly bleak, as it should be, but inevitably it’s left open for sequels, which I just can’t bring myself to care about.

And the zombie tiger? Valentine? One of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers? That was brilliant. As soon as I saw it, I wondered, are they going to go there? Are they going to have Valentine do to the secret “villain” of the piece what he did that time to Siegfried, only much nastier?

They did, dear reader, they did go there. That was a delightful surprise. Still doesn’t make it masterpiece theatre. But it was enjoyable enough. The Army of the Dead marches on, more resilient than cockroaches, more eternal than racism, coming to a drive-in near you, and I hope that Valentine will be leading the way.

7 times this is the kind of flick for dads who desperately wish they could be in a situation to sacrifice themselves for their kids out of 10

“To quote the great Joseph Campbell, he said, "It is by going down into the abyss where we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure." – thanks for your shared wisdom, jerk - Army of the Dead