Army of the Dead Misses Out On Its Potential Even As It Flexes Its Zombie Action

After over a year of watching our most anticipated horror movies get bumped, we’re finally starting to reap a bounty. Last week, the surprise Chris Rock-produced Saw sequel, Spiral: From The Book of Saw finally hit select theatres. By the month’s end, A Quiet Place II finally releases. And now Zack Snyder’s long-gestating follow-up to Dawn of the Dead, Army of the Dead, hits Netflix. No, Army of Dead is neither a prequel nor sequel to Snyder’s popular Romero remake. Instead, Snyder’s mixing of heist, action, and zombie narratives stands as its own movie, which, to date, has earned mixed-to-positive reviews.

Synopsis

When a military convoy from Area 51 crashes and loses its unknown cargo, a zombie plague is unleashed on Las Vegas. Despite their best efforts, the military fails to stop the infection’s spread and the government seals off the city. Now as the government prepares to nuke Vegas, a casino owner hires a team of mercenaries to break into a vault beneath the city. But the city’s undead have evolved. What started as a simple ‘in and out grab’ turns into a desperate struggle to escape before nuclear Armageddon.

Army of the Dead Boasts Muscular, If Not Underwhelming, Zombie Mayhem

Not surprisingly, Army of the Dead is a bombastic, testosterone-laden action-zombie movie. There’s more shared in common with Justice League than Snyder’s previous crack at the zombie subgenre, Dawn of the Dead. Following a nail-biting prologue and wildly fun opening credits scene, Snyder largely focuses on action over scares. Its clever ‘heist as zombie movie’ premise is largely an excuse to set up Snyder’s carnage against a Las Vegas backdrop. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing given Snyder’s ability to film big-screen action and destruction. And there’s a giddy energy to Army of the Dead when it decides to pick up its pace. For its final 30 minutes or so, Snyder confirms that there are few directors who can match his action movie sensibilities.

Army of the Dead is a bombastic, testosterone-laden action-zombie movie.

But there’s something of a disconnect between Army of the Dead’s spectacle and the movie’s overall quality. Despite well-staged action, likeable characters whose deaths have meaning, and fun banter, Army of the Dead often feels stale. Not much of the movie’s plot feels original. While we like the characters, are we really surprised at their fates? Even the idea of ‘smart’ zombies builds from Romero’s Land of the Dead. In addition, Snyder includes a number of odd references to past movies, intentional or otherwise. Seasoned horror fans might catch nods to Deep Rising, An American Werewolf in London, and, most certainly, Aliens. If Army of the Dead felt a little more fresh, these references would probably be more fun.

Army of Dead Feels Like Its Title Monsters … It Just Won’t Die

Anyone who has seen the Snyder Cut of Justice League knows its a better movie than what Warner Bros put out in theatres. Still that doesn’t mean it needed four hours. Similarly, Snyder handicaps Army of the Dead with his penchant for excess. At 148 minutes in length, Army of the Dead is far too long. To say there’s unnecessary padding here is an understatement. Snyder could have cut 40 minutes, still had the same movie and delivered a tighter, more tense result. What’s in those 40 minutes is pretty formulaic genre backstory and more macho posturing. Though he shows a little more restraint with the slow-motion, Snyder can’t let it go completely.

Snyder could have cut 40 minutes and still had the same movie and delivered a tigher, more tense result.

If it’s too long, at least Army of the Dead’s cast makes most of that extra time kind of fun. Former pro-wrestler and current MCU star Dave Bautista has limited range, but he’s perfect for the lead role. His stoic brawn fits well with Snyder’s muscular filmmaking style. Besides an absolutely stacked supporting cast backs up Bautista. Familiar faces – Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) and Garret Dillanhunt (Burning Bright, Last House on the Left) – star alongside a game group of lesser know actors who look like they’re having a blast. In particular Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighofer, and Nora Arnezeder are standouts in their respective roles.

Army of the Dead Entertains Despite Falling Short of Expectations

As good as Army of the Dead may be – and it’s a good move – it can’t ever escape the feeling that it’s disappointing. Whether it’s the bloated length, the overreliance on middling CGI, or the feeling that you’ve seen much of it before, Army of the Dead is a missed opportunity. At no point does it ever approach Dawn of the Dead. As a result, it’s unlikely to curry the same kind of favour with horror fans. Ultimately, Snyder fans will love it, horror fans will like, and average filmgoers will find it too tedious.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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