Spoilers will stop to have a chat.
It’s not all bad. That’s what I told myself as I kept checking the time left. I was looking forward to this film as very much needed action horror comedy and I thought as long as I kept my expectations low I’d be somewhat entertained. This is definitely not the film to go to the theatre for. I am of the opinion this is one of those films where the filmmakers would have benefit of a few additional showings of other zombie films just to know the genre. I never thought of myself as a zombie film snob until I saw this movie. Turn back now. Scalpel out. Grab a chair.
Army of the Dead (2021) was directed by Zack Snyder, who also wrote the screenplay with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold. A group of mercenaries led by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) that once escaped a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas are offered a ton of money to go back in and recover a ton of money. Meanwhile, Scott’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) has a parallel story in which one of her friends went in to get some money and now she wants to go in for her friend. Sorry, I should put a little more effort into describing the premise, but I don’t want you to think the premise has any legs to stand with.
We have a prologue sequence of what the outbreak that would’ve worked well as an introduction, but the film insists in spending time introducing everyone. We have badass heroes, crying victims, assholes that will die horrible deaths, rogues that will redeem themselves, clumsy sidekicks that will survive and people that hate each other but end up working together. Everyone and I mean everyone is identifiable from minute one. Every character is a cardboard cutout of their trope. It’s almost like they have arrows pointing at them with each of their labels announced.
The filmmakers force all-too-familiar moments as comedy or character-building but it never quite arrives to them. It just forces them onto the screen. It’s like watching a series of cutscenes lined up together. There’s no continuity from one scene to the next. We get a scene with two characters whom we already know to re-establish that one is a badass and the other an asshole. It’s like we’re alt-tabbing through every pair of characters. There’s just way too many characters to do this. When the film finally gets to zombie territory, we’ve spent an hour giving everyone character-defining moments and the film still does it amidst the fighting.
All zombie movies are derivative of the other zombie films. They use rules that are very close from one film to another and create expectation amongst the audience. You either fulfill said expectation or subvert it, but you never ignore it. In this film, the filmmakers decided to ignore the lore and put in smart zombies. They negotiate, they love, they seek out revenge, they grab spears. This does not work. At that point, these are everything but zombies. In trying to make these creatures scarier you’ve removed the whole threat of the genre.
Do you know why they eat brains? Because brains don’t matter in the apocalypse, they’re just food. That’s the point. Intelligence is irrelevant, you die because zombies. That’s it.
Stupid deaths (aka the tragic fate of heroes) are a staple of zombie films, but they usually have some build up in which a chance is offered to entice the audience just for that victory window to slip away. The idea of the tragic fate is that all chances are exhausted, not that they’re thrown away. You have to allow for a tiny oversight and mistake to condemn a character to their grizzly end. This movie has a character seeking redemption walk away from the chopper just to have a standoff with the super zombie that has been patiently waiting for the heroes to finish their conversation and exchange some knowing glances before their selfless and unnecessary sacrifice.
The heist part also felt flat. The protection measures for a vault felt more like Raiders-Of-The-Lost-Ark ripoffs (crushing walls to protect a safe, are you kidding me?). Opening the vault is just this scene foreshadowed to use the music from the third act of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. The idea is to give a very artistic feel, which fails completely since we never really see the safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) get to do anything artistic to open the safe. Perhaps that was left behind on the cutting floor and will be re-added when we get the Snyder’s cut.
Not recommended for zombie fans. I will say some casual audiences hungry for content might find some entertaining minutes in it, but all moments feel forced and out of place. The editing and the pace really sink this feature. There is just too many characters to keep trying to give moments to each one. The movie misses the point of the genre altogether by making zombies smart. With classic dumb zombies, you have to make a smart movie in which the little mistakes or oversights cost humans dearly. When a filmmaker makes zombies smart, the movie becomes dumb. If you like criticizing bad films and catching movie errors, this might be worth a hate-watch at home where you can fast forward ahead. For casual audiences, it might make an average/mediocre popcorn viewing experience if you leave your brains behind.
That will do for now.