Army of the Dead is what you get when you cross Oceans’ Eleven and World War Z. The film is exactly what you would expect from a ‘zombie-heist’ Zack Snyder film – action, music, and slow motion.
Army of the Dead picks up a few years after a zombie breaks out of a military container near Area 51 in Nevada leading to an outbreak in Las Vegas.
A few years after the event, the military of America barely manages to contain these zombies and erects a wall around the city. The government uses the pretext of security and medical testing to lock up immigrants and anyone who disagrees with them in quarantine camps outside Las Vegas. The president plans to launch nuclear bombs on the zombies in the city and decimate it on the 4th of July.
Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a multimillionaire casino owner hires Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a cook in a burger joint who saved the lives of countless people, including the secretary of defence, earning him the medal of freedom, to break into the heavily fortified vault of a gas casino, three days before the city is to be nuked, to take out $200 million from the safe.
If Ward would succeed, he would get 50 million dollars for him and his entire crew. Ward wants to reunite with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who would be the one who can help him get into the city as she is a volunteer who helps the people in the quarantine camp.
Ward’s team consists of veterans who fought zombies alongside him like Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), a mechanic, Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a caregiver for the elderly, Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a helicopter pilot, and a few new professionals like Deiter (Matthias Schweighöfer), a safecracker and Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a youngster who puts videos online where he kills zombies.
Together they must survive the hordes of zombies in Las Vegas who have developed to become very fast, intelligent and formed a society with an alpha king and queen.
Army of the Dead has lacklustre performances from the entire ensemble cast.
Dave Bautista plays the protagonist Scott Ward who leads the team for the heist. He was forced to kill his wife who turned into a zombie to save his daughter, Kate, after which they stopped speaking. Ward is a thinly written character with one or two emotional hurdles to overcome. The former wrestler’s dramatic acting skills are not upto the mark. He does not have the charm, charisma or the weight to hold the attention of the audience. His performance is wooden
Ana de la Reguera who plays Maria the mechanic, who is gifted at killing zombies, is cast opposite Ward. Her primary and only role is to serve as some vague romantic interest to him. Unfortunately, Reguera and Bautista have absolutely no chemistry at all.
Matthias Schweighöfer plays Deiter, the safecracker and the token comic relief in the film. He is has very few good moments as most of his jokes fall flat. His chemistry with the much more experienced zombie killer, Vanderohe played by Omari Hardwick, has its moments. Hardwick gives a decent performance even though his character is thin as well.
A big surprise in Army of the Dead was Huma Qureshi as Geeta, an immigrant in the camps outside Las Vegas. She wants to break into the casinos and steal enough money to bribe the officers into letting her and her children go. Qureshi has a very limited role but gives an excellent performance and is better than the main cast.
Nora Arnezeder plays Lily, the Coyote. She lives in the quarantine camp and ferries people into Las Vegas. She is one of the few people who know how much the zombies have evolved. Arnezeder is one of the better performers in the film. Army of the Dead could have used more of her.
Army of the Dead has been written, directed and shot by Zack Synder. It is two and a half hours of Snyder, fresh off positive reviews for Justice League. He shows little restraints when it comes to his trademarks.
The soundtrack of the film, a Snyder staple, is excellent. It once again combines popular songs whose tone does not match that of the scene for an unexpectedly fun montage.
The camerawork that Snyder does for the very first time, is excellent. The action scenes are well done. The special effects do not leave anything to be desired either.
Army of the Dead takes its time, a good 50 minutes, to set up its plethora of characters before it begins all the gore and violence.
The film starts off perfectly with an excellent prologue that sets the tone for the narrative to come. The opening credits are also excellent and one of the best in recent years.The few minutes of credits, tell the backstory of all the relevant characters quickly, without any dialogue and in a highly stylized manner that is very efficient.
The different types of zombies, their societal structure and their motivations make the film stand out in the endless list of zombie films.
If Army of the Dead thrives in Snyder’s strong suits, it surely stumbles in his weak aspects too.
The characters of the film are thinly written. They can be described in a word or two. The set up spends enough time on each character that the audience will recognise them when they appear on screen, but not enough to actually care for them. The dialogue is also mainly expository and unnatural.
The story structure is formulaic, making the twists and turns highly predictable and replaceable. Army of the Dead does not excite or thrill because any avid filmgoer will be able to point out when certain people might die, and how they might die.
Combine all of this with a very mediocre cast, Army of the Dead, becomes severely underwhelming.
The highly political worldbuilding and a lot of the camerawork in the film is inspired by the 2006 Alfonso Curan film, Children of Men, which is also set in a dystopian world. But unlike Children of Men, Army of the Dead is cliched and does not have anything new to say.
The ending of the film follows a character. The character’s journey in the last few minutes points out plenty of glaring plot holes in the story that further diminish the film.
Army of the Dead is a gory, action filled, flashy and stylish Snyder film, which lacks character depth more than usual. Since it is neither character driven nor action driven, the film is mediocre. Give it a watch, if you have time to kill.