If you think you’re tired of reading one negative review after another from me, imagine how I feel having to write them.
Never in my life have I sat down wanting anything other than to love a movie. Director, co-writer Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead is something I’ve looked forward to since first hearing about the project months and months ago. His feature debut, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, is nothing short of spectacular (and I say that as someone who worships George Romero’s original), so the idea of Snyder returning to home base after all the bloat of those Justice League movies sounded great. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t great…
Army of the Dead — available on Netflix — isn’t awful. Two pretty terrific moments save it from feeling like a total waste of time. To begin with, there’s a dazzling opening-credit sequence, a montage reminiscent of what Snyder did so brilliantly with Watchmen, that explains the world we’re about to enter and moves the story along like quicksilver. Secondly, there’s a superbly tense set piece involving our heroes having to make their way through room after room of hibernating zombies. Other than that, though… What a slog.
Army of the Dead’s central concept is genius: Dirty Dozen meets World War Z. In the near future, Las Vegas is a walled-off city filled with a virus in the form of flesh-eating zombies. Before the government (wisely) nukes it, a ragtag team of mercenaries is sent inside to recover $200 million from a casino vault.
Who doesn’t want to see that movie?
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with Snyder’s recent output, Army of the Dead is an hour too long (150 minutes), takes itself way too seriously, and is over-plotted to the breaking point, especially with unnecessary mythology that borders on pretension. There’s a whole subculture of smart zombies whose primary objective appears to be taking everything way too seriously. Everything’s a ritual with this dull group as they worship their king and queen. But Snyder never explains what the overall point of this is, which undermines the believability of these scenes and gives them no real purpose.
Most maddening is a major violation of the Chekhov Gun rule that states everything in drama must have a purpose. If you’re going to tell us these piles of dried-up zombies come to life when it rains, it had better goddamned rain.
Army of the Dead is also painful on the eyes. Snyder acts as his own cinematographer, and what we get is more of that washed-out look that was so punishing in Justice League: The Snyder Cut. Worse, most of the movie is set in dull, colorless locations. We’re expecting a vibrant and colorful Vegas. Instead, it’s all gray basements and passageways and warehouses.
Another serious problem is the characters. Other than Tig Notaro’s helicopter pilot (she filmed her scenes pretty much alone after replacing an actor accused of sexual misconduct who’d completed the whole movie), no one has much of a personality. Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, the group’s leader, is a dull mope who’s supposed to exude danger but doesn’t. His estranged daughter (Ella Purnell) is too strident and angry to be likable. Omari Hardwick does his best as Ward’s pal, but no one’s given much to work with, so no one pops. I honestly don’t know whether to blame the script or the actors.
Much of the movie simply makes no sense… Why are there still refugees outside the Vegas walls? If people are going to change into a zombie wouldn’t they have by now? I realize Snyder wants to say something about illegal immigration and how a deadly virus is abused by authority to control people, but who are these people? Why are they all here, other than to service an already over-stuffed plot?
Why is the “coyote” who smuggles desperate refugees into Vegas a Frenchwoman? Where the hell did she come from?
Why is it so easy to sneak into Vegas (you need a coyote for that?), and why do they leave the door wide open after they arrive?
After being bitten, why does the time it takes to turn into a zombie vary so much, other than to serve the plot?
If zombies are intelligent enough to dodge bullets and wear brain-protecting headgear, are they not smart enough to scale the Vegas walls, which are made only of cargo containers?
Finally, not for a moment did I believe the action that motivates what is essentially Army of the Dead’s never-ending fourth act. You’re minutes away from being nuked and slowly making your way into a nest of intelligent flash-eaters? Gimme a break.
What really lost me, though, is when we’re told our heroes have nine minutes left to move $200 million (the equivalent of 200 carry-on bags) to a helicopter (that could never carry all of them) and not only do the characters still stand around talking about their feelings, the movie still had 30 minutes to go.
Army of the Dead is not fun, nor is it lean, vicious, filled with tension and a relentless sense of dread that death could come out of anywhere and at any time… Instead, it’s confusing, over-complicated, dull for too long and in too many spots, filled with characters we feel nothing for, has no emotional core, and it’s CGI’d to death.
The hungry Zack Snyder who gave us Dawn of the Dead and the equally fantastic 300 is no longer hungry. He’s full now, mostly of himself.