Zack Snyder is one of the most divisive directors working in Hollywood today. He is very much the personification of style over substance, and his style is not for everybody. Personally, I don’t love or hate him, but rather, I fall in the middle. I think he has one masterpiece, a couple of good films, a whole bunch of “enjoyable for what they are” type movies, and one pile of trash. Army of the Dead falls into the “enjoyable for what it is” category, and what it is is an incredibly stupid yet very fun zombie heist movie.
I’ll start off with the negatives and the first one that immediately comes to mind is the writing. Now, I have a pretty low bar for writing when the premise is “a team crack a safe in zombie-infested Las Vegas” but there are so many plot holes and oversights that hinder the enjoyment of this. There are multiple instances where something is hinted at in the start of the film, only for it to never be mentioned again. For my writing nerds, it’s the opposite of Chekhov’s Gun. I’ll mention one example, and it’s a very (very) minor story spoiler but not a main plot spoiler. When the team first enter Las Vegas, there are hundreds of sun-dried zombies, due to the heat of Vegas. It’s a very cool visual. Even cooler, one of the characters mentions that “if it rains, they’re all gonna be reanimated.” So I’m thinking “that is going to be an awesome scene.” Do you think they actually follow through with it? No reader. No they do not.
There are also many other plot holes. Some are easy enough to ignore, but there are a couple that bothered me. There is a character who goes missing in the infected zone and is literally the entire reason another character makes the trip. So, a pretty important character as far as the plot goes. We don’t know what happens to them. It’s just literally never explained. That’s a pretty big oversight, and genuinely annoyed me. There are also many issues around the concept of time, but I can’t go into any details without pretty major spoilers so I will avoid.
Snyder is well-known for his excellent action sequences, and while they’re on display here (more on that soon), he also designated himself to be the film’s cinematographer, an ambitious task. For the most part, he does a fine enough job. There are no memorable shots that blew my mind or anything, but he doesn’t embarrass himself. However, he makes a really weird stylistic choice where he uses a really shallow focus on the camera. I don’t know if that is the correct technical term, but what I mean is that when a character is close to the camera, they’re in focus, but as soon as they start moving away, they go blurry. This happens multiple times and, while I get that it’s a deliberate choice, I don’t know what it actually adds.
My final negative relates to two characters who I just didn’t like, although one was in the film for an admirable reason. First off, Ella Purnell, who plays Dave Bautista’s estranged daughter, is horribly unlikable in this. The actor’s performance is fine; it’s how the character is written. She acts like a crybaby brat for a lot of the runtime and it’s such an odd decision. I get the being estranged part, and the decision her and her father are estranged was a pretty ballsy choice that had some potential. But this relationship stinks because the character of the daughter is written so horribly.
The second character is played by Tig Notaro and I didn’t like the character for a different reason, but I am willing to forgive this one. If you aren’t aware, Notaro’s role was originally filled by Chris D’Elia. Also if you aren’t aware, D’Elia was recently outed as a predator, soliciting nudes from underage girls and the like. So Zack Snyder removed D’Elia from the film, after it had already been shot, and digitally added Tig Notaro in after the fact. This cost Snyder literally millions of dollars to do and he was under no pressure from Netflix to do it. This was all Snyder, and I commend him for that. Now, there are some scenes with Notaro that it’s glaringly obvious that she is not there with the rest of the cast. But I’ll let that slide. So why didn’t I like the character? Well, I just think Notaro isn’t my jam. But I will take her over Chris D’Elia 1000 times out of 1000.
Now onto the positives and my first one is Dave Bautista. A little history lesson for the uninformed here. Bautista started off as a wrestler in the WWE. He was very popular but wasn’t exactly much of a talker. He wasn’t horrible, but he didn’t ooze charisma like The Rock, Stone Cold or John Cena. So when he announced he was going to Hollywood, there was a collective yikes heard throughout the world. Then when he was announced to be in Guardians of the Galaxy, there was a collective “what the fuck?” heard throughout the world. Then when he was incredibly charismatic and funny in that, everybody’s minds blew up. Now, Bautista has become a very capable lead man, and he is the same here in Army of the Dead. He is a likable protagonist that you want to see succeed, and also a capable bad ass, killing a plethora of zombies. Big Dave boosted my enjoyment of this up quite a bit.
Zack Snyder has created some fantastic action sequences in his films, including my personal favourite Batman sequence from any movie, and he does it again here. There are multiple shootouts between the squad and hordes of zombies, and the majority of them are shot in different ways, to keep the action fresh. A highlight involves a shootout inside a casino, and Big Dave is running across blackjack tables while taking out countless zombies and it culminates with an incredible slow-mo shot where a zombie jumps at him while he ducks down and shoots it. My description doesn’t do it justice but it is a fantastic sequence.
My final positive, and perhaps my favourite, is that Snyder didn’t just make these your bog-standard zombies. He plays with the rules of the monster and introduces a hierarchy amongst them. There is a King and a Queen. They have the ability to make super quick and more intelligent zombies, who are sort of like the henchmen to the King and Queen. Then of course you have your normal, slow-moving zombies. Also, there is a zombie tiger, which means that the king, at one point, bit a tiger to turn it and that is hilarious. Give me that prequel movie please. The one thing that I didn’t like from these new twists on zombies is that there are indeed robot zombies, and they aren’t explained in the slightest. They’re just there. Which is certainly a choice.
To sum up, this movie is incredibly stupid, and I don’t think that is excuse enough for some of the plot holes and terribly-written sequences in this film. However, this is still a ton of fun, although it could’ve been a lot better if it was a little shorter and even just a little bit better written.