Zack Snyder is a hack. If you have not gathered that this is my opinion of his work from reading my reviews of his dumb Justice League films, then let this definitive statement erase any doubts. Alright, I will confess to enjoying 300 (2006). It was original in its style. Unfortunately, Snyder seemed to have fallen in love with slow motion and sepia tones, and began applying it to every single movie he has done. It is okay to have a trademark by which your films are identified. Many of the greats had them, but none of them became distracting as they are with Snyder. While I give him the smallest iota of credit for not making the same looking movie as all his others, Army of the Dead is still a ridiculous joke of two and a half hours that I will never get back.
We have all seen a zombie movie or television show, no? They have seemingly proliferated exponentially in the past couple of decades to the point where we no longer need moving pictures to understand the unwritten rules of the undead. People either die and rise again seeking to eat the living, or survive these attacks but are bitten and become a shambling corpse. Some of this is true for Army of the Dead. When a military convoy transporting a mysterious bit of cargo has a head-on collision with a newly married couple from Las Vegas doing inappropriate things while driving down the road, the resulting wreck releases a super-zombie (later referred to as an “alpha”). It begins biting everyone it can sink its teeth into, and then turns its attention on the nearby Sin City. This is when the opening credits begin, in which we see some of the main characters leave behind their former staid urban lifestyles to become unstoppable killing machines. Well, almost unstoppable as one of these former soccer moms dies as a couple cargo containers drop on her as the opening credits end. This is part of a barrier that is put up around Las Vegas in order to stop the zombies from spreading. The character that is focused on from the credit sequence is Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), who is now flipping burgers outside of the city walls. He is approached by a Japanese businessman named Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a proposition. Apparently in a vault of one of the casinos inside the zombie zone is a couple hundred dollars just waiting to be retrieved. Given Scott’s former military heroism and his reputation as a survivor of the undead hordes, he seems like a natural candidate for the job. The problem is that since he had reverted back to normal life, he is haunted by the memory of having to kill his wife, who had become a zombie, in front of his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). Since then, he had been trying to put his past behind him and patch things up with Kate. In this potential opportunity he sees a path to reconciling with Kate. When he goes to her to tell her that he plans to go into the city, he offers her all the money he planned on taking out. Kate seems indifferent until one of the mothers who she volunteers with in the camp also goes into the city in search of money. She discovers this when the children inform her that their mother is missing. Wanting to help, she puts herself on the team of people Scott collects for what is essentially a heist job, much to her father’s objections. Once inside, they are presented with a new problem: the alphas. I will talk later about how little sense this makes, but for now understand that they are supposedly harder to kill than the normal zombies. They make their way to their target vault after sacrificing one of their own to these alphas. However, because there is always a jerk in these movies, one of Tanaka’s associates, Martin (Garret Dillahunt), upsets the alphas by cutting the head off their queen. Hence, just as they are loading up the money they are attacked by angry alphas. I should also mention that they are under a further time crunch due to the fact that the United States’ government has decided to drop a nuclear bomb on Las Vegas. This does not stop Kate, though, from sneaking off in search of her friends, who, of course, are being held hostage by the alphas. While virtually the entire team dies, Scott manages to make his way to Kate, get her and her friend on the helicopter, fly out just as the bomb is being dropped, and even stash a stack of hundreds from the mountain of cash they left behind. Unfortunately, the king alpha also manages to jump onto the helicopter as it was taking off, and it bites Scott on the arm before being shot in the head. Despite the helicopter crashing due to the shockwave from the nuclear blast, Kate and Scott are still alive and have a tearful parting before Kate kills him. Now, you might think this is a fitting end to the film, but no. Instead, we have to have one last sequence where Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) emerges from the vault he had been pushed into before the nuclear explosion, shouldering bags of cash. He makes his way out of the nuclear fallout, finds a car, and then rents a private jet to fly him away. Before the end credits roll, we see him in the bathroom of the plane looking at a zombie bite on his arm as the plane lands in Mexico. So much for hope.
In Army of the Dead, the titular army begins with the king alpha. Later on, it is explicitly stated that whenever an alpha bites somebody else, that person also becomes an alpha. We see this happen with one of the team members, the one who is sacrificed when they first enter Las Vegas. Now, it may seem silly of me to take issue with this aspect, but I do not understand how this works when you consider that not all the zombies are alphas. They seem to be a select group, whereas the overwhelming majority of the undead are the familiar mobile corpses. You might think that the alphas are an original concept that Snyder attempted to introduce to audiences, but is it? While watching the opening credits, it reminded me a great deal of how they were handled in Zombieland (2009). Adding to the seemingly blatant rip-off is that Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) also had super zombies. I cannot say for certain whether the Zombieland franchise were directly copying other films (all zombie productions basically are in some way, anyway). I am not a zombie aficionado. Still, another review of Army of the Dead that I watched suggests that there was some other pretty obvious stealing. It showed how there were lines, concepts, and entire scenes from Aliens (1986) that also made their way into Army of the Dead. Hence, the only logical thing to conclude, as I said at the beginning, is that Snyder is a hack.
If I was forced to pick one thing I did like about Army of the Dead, it was the team’s safe cracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). All the rest of the characters are pretty much the same: killing machines after quick riches. Dieter, on the other hand, while somewhat motivated by profit, is more interested in a chance to break into what he sees as one of the most sophisticated locks ever made. He is also portrayed as awkward and nerdy, and the chance to go on this mission, despite its dangers, means basically having friends for the first time in his life. The one on the team he seems to gravitate to the most is the one most annoyed by him, and that is Vanderohe. Still, Dieter’s plucky enthusiasm, if not his courage and skills with a gun, begin to wear off on the normally stoic Vanderohe. Thus, when the alphas begin attacking, there is a moment when the king comes face-to-face with Dieter and Vanderohe. At first, Vanderohe decides to take on the king with his fists because (conveniently) his trademark saw is being used elsewhere. As he is inevitably being beaten to within an inch of his life, Dieter summons the courage to intervene and save his life. Dieter pushes Vanderohe into the safe and closes it behind him, facing the rest of the alphas alone. It is the kind of courage this Catholic can get behind. As I have said in many other reviews, Jesus said told us there is no better act we can do for our friends than to lay down our lives for them. While it might be a stretch to call Dieter and Vanderohe friends, that fact alone makes Dieter’s actions that much more noble. Even though we may never be called upon to put our lives on the line for someone else, we should always be prepared to do what we can for others. That is what love is about, and what God asks of us.
That is as good as it gets in Army of the Dead. It is on Netflix, and it has an R rating, which is in keeping with its content. If you are in the mood for a zombie film or show, there are far better options to be found. As for Zack Snyder, let us hope that he figures out how to make better movies, as I presume he will not be quitting (unfortunately) any time soon.