Released: 21st May
Seen: 23rd May
I’ve made it no secret that I have a bit of a problem with how Zack Snyder has handled his time as part of the DCEU… namely, I believe his drab and depressing interpretation of the iconic DC superheroes is partially why that franchise stalled so hard that it might as well just die so we can hard reset it in a few years and try again. I’m not a fan of most of his work… with one notable exception. I absolutely loved his interpretation of Dawn of the Dead.
The original Dawn of the Dead is a classic of the genre, a scathing mockery of consumer culture wrapped in a comforting package of Tom Savini gore effects and cream pie fights. It’s a brilliant film, and Snyder took that film and just turned the dial up to 11 and tried to see what would happen. Now, sure there are still problems with it that’re worth exploring (it’s casual Islamophobia and homophobia are… uncomfortably 2004, let’s just say that) but on the whole it’s a ludicrously fun film so you bet your ass I was excited to learn Snyder was going back to his roots with another Zombie film and man, this one was fun.
Army of the Dead begins, as most Zombie films do, with a big old Zombie outbreak that happens in the middle of Las Vegas. In a rare display of competence, the US government manages to contain the outbreak of this lethal thing to Vegas by building a giant wall around the entire town that the zombies just can’t seem to get through. Of course, because it’s Vegas that’s locked up that means there’s a whole bunch of money stuck in vaults so naturally it’s time for a gang of people to break in and get that money, preferably before the US government just nukes Vegas to get rid of the infestation.
From the moment we see a parade of zombie showgirls chasing down some random guy while a Liberace impersonator plays piano casually in the background, you know Army of the Dead is going to be a good time. The over the top glitz and glam of Vegas has clearly become a key part of the writing process because the insanity is high. Zombie tigers, a zombie queen, ZOMBIE HORSES BEING RIDDEN THROUGH A DESERTED LAS VEGAS! Army of the Dead is just a film that’s decided that anything can be a Zombie and it’s going to have fun while doing it.
The high points of Army of the Dead come when they truly embrace the madness and fun of the genre, from the opening title montage set to a cover of Viva Las Vegas to the silliness of how the vault is actually being protected and how they disarm it. These scenes of flashy over the top insanity are just a ton of fun, and also so brightly coloured that it feels like a different filmmaker… until the slow motion starts, then you go “Oh right, Snyder did this, got it” because no one has taken the slow motion button away from him yet.
It also really helps that the characters we’re meant to like are actually likeable (not always a guarantee when this director does a zombie film), in particular Dave Bautista’s character who leads the troupe through the town and probably has the more interesting emotional arc, actually exploring what it might be like for someone to have to kill a loved one in a zombie horde and what happens if they live through that. The entire main cast that we’re meant to like (cos it’s VERY obvious who the assholes are, there is no ambiguity to be found here) are great.
Extra huge props to Tig Notaro who filmed her entire role on a green screen to replace another actor who did a whole bunch of sexual harassment. Hey, Hollywood, turns out it’s actually possible to replace assholes in films that you’re about to release which is a thing you should be very willing to do if it keeps your film from being attached to a sex offender… just saying.
Anyway, while there is a lot of Army of the Dead that’s fun over the top horror with all the guts and glory one could hope for, it would be a bit of a lie to say that Army of the Dead isn’t without problems. The film itself is just a bit longer than it needs to be, at least a solid half hour could’ve been cut with no one missing any of it. There’s a noticeable period of time when you could almost forget that we’re in a zombie movie, it just kind of slows down to a crawl and considering this if a Vegas set horror film I shouldn’t have a moment of quiet anywhere… it’s Vegas, these are zombies, we aren’t here for slow ponderous talks.
Army of the Dead is pretty close to what I was hoping for, a big over the top zombie film with a serious heavy hitting cast and a lot of great visuals and that’s pretty much what I got. It drags in the middle and I gotta admit, the group seems to have an issue falling for obvious villains who are obviously going to betray them at the first chance possible but for the most part it’s a genuinely enjoyable experience. It’s certainly enjoyable enough to get me excited about the upcoming anime spinoff series.