I’ve never really cared for the films of Zack Snyder. They may look great as the director gives each one his unique visual style but the films feel empty and badly scripted.
Apart from his debut feature as director, the surprisingly respectful remake of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” every Snyder film became more and more insufferable. (It should be noted that, as of this writing, I still have not seen his critically praised director’s cut of “Justice League”)
When I saw the trailer for Snyder’s latest, I could have cared less. A two-and-a-half-hour action film extravaganza of zombie madness from the director of some of the worst films in modern cinema history.
I am more than pleased (and quite surprised) to say that “Army of the Dead” is one of the more exciting and purely entertaining Hollywood Action films seen in years, right from the word “go.”
The film begins with a military convoy transporting an infected man who is zombie-esque. Not quite the undead but certainly a monster.
As an unavoidable crash unleashes the monster into the Nevada desert, the creative opening credit sequence shows how Las Vegas is overtaken by zombie hordes, eventually falling completely.
If it is cliche to use “Viva Las Vegas” for these opening moments, you would be correct. However, the song is a cover version that is slowed down and plays as a somber and sad “taps” of sorts for the fallen city. The military surrounds Vegas with a wall, making it a desert prison ruled by monsters.
Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) won a medal after saving the Secretary of Defense from being eaten but has disappeared from society after having to kill his infected wife and is now flipping burgers in a diner.
As any good hero in a film of this type, Ward is estranged from his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), as she can never get over the sight of her father killing her mother.
Enter Tanaka (the great Hiroyuki Sanada, who is underused here) with a mission to lead a team of his choosing into Las Vegas to get $200 million from a vault, allowing Ward and his team to split a more than generous cut.
The team is fun and well-cast. Ward’s former fellow soldiers Vanderohe (a buffed-out Omari Hardwick) and Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) are loyal to him and join without issue. Comedy comes in the form of expert safecracker Dieter (a naturally funny Matthias Schweighöfer) with Internet star Guzman (Raúl Castillo), tough and smart-ass helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) rounding out his handpicked crew.
Tanaka’s right hand man Martin (Garret Dillahunt) forces himself on the mission and Nora Arnezeder is “The Coyote,” who knows how to get in quiet and can navigate around the monsters.
The screenplay by Joby Harold, Shay Hatten and Snyder pays tribute many genre films yet never drowns in homage. The script does enough character building to make the roles interesting and balances the action perfectly.
The screenplay is not perfect, it contains a few misplaced dramatic moments and some clunky dialogue but it all goes down smoothly.
While the use of handheld camerawork in the action genre is best avoided altogether, Snyder (working as his own director of photography à la Peter Hyams and Steven Soderbergh) does not visually overwhelm like his previous work. It is certainly flashy, but the film looks great and this time Snyder has something interesting beyond his visual style.
The gore effects are a blend of the practical and CGI. They come off smooth. Even a fully computer-created zombie tiger works well and becomes a good in-joke for those who know the history of Las Vegas legends Siegfried and Roy.
Perhaps the most amazing special effect in the film is the presence of Tig Notaro. The comedian/actress steals every moment yet is never actually there.
Chris D’Elia was the actor who shot the role. When filming was completed and final editing was done, D’Elia became involved in a scandal that has most likely destroyed his career. Snyder recast the role and using some crafty FX, filmed all Notaro’s scenes and inserted her into the previously shot footage with impeccable results.
As with any Zack Snyder film, the action scenes are big and loud but this time they are exciting and fun to watch.
Snyder has had a hard time sustaining interest in the bloated running times of his previous films; his work is sometimes a little dull. And yet “Army of the Dead” clocks in at two and a half hours and manages to be a blast from beginning to end.
This film is infused with details that keep it interesting and somewhat unique. The best being the leader of the zombies (to be fair, I hesitate to call them full-on zombies, as they can be controlled and think for themselves). Zeus is a creature who models himself after the statue of Julius Caesar that used to adorn the famous Caesar’s Palace. He is the monster-king of the city and has a mate-queen of sorts.
Zeus wears a cape, carries a staff, and dons a metal helmet so he cannot be shot in the brain, as that is the only way to destroy the creatures. It is a cool character.
There is a lot going on in this one. Is the film saturated? Yes. This is Zack Snyder’s cinematic world, and the man is a stranger to subtlety. But “Army of the Dead” is a bad-ass accomplishment, an apocalyptic action/horror thrill ride with a fun cast and a sharp sense of character.