Army of the Dead is written and directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Mathias Schweighöfer, and an extended ensemble cast during a zombie outbreak. The survivors are living on the outskirts of Las Vegas — right outside the city which confines the screeching mind eaters.
It opens with a captivating scene where a military truck is transporting something dangerous out of Area 51 when they are met in an accident. Their package is compromised, and even with a platoon’s entire arsenal at their service, they are ordered to retreat immediately. This is where the divisive director is at his best. From the cinematography and dialogues to editing — it slowly builds towards the explosion both literally and figuratively. The remaining survivors are soon turned into zombies and scale up a hill while the camera pans over a beautiful, moonlight city.
One of the thing I am not a fan of is the shallow depth of field where only the head is in focus and everything else is blurred. My eyes were struggling to focus— I wonder if that style had a reason behind it or Snyder did it because it seemed cool.
After this intriguing setup, I was expecting a zombie movie as engaging as Train to Busan, my current favourite in that genre. Expectations were further built during the opening credit scene where the sin city falls. Zack Snyder juxtaposes the carnage with Las Vegas’s frivolousness perfectly. Topless showgirls devouring a man in a tub, someone winning a lottery as a group of zombies walks towards him, Vanderohe(Omari Hardwick) mauling the screechers with his circular chainsaw — all of that in a stylized montage that manages to tell an entire story in itself while “Viva Las Vegas” plays ironically in the background.
That’s about it though. Instead of continuing what he started in the prologue, extending a plot that took place within a matter of minutes into a feature film, he decides to make a heist movie with zombies. While the world he has created is a nice set-up for it, I don’t believe it pushes the sub-genres(heist and zombies) to new degrees. I’d argue that the ‘heist’ aspect of it is severely underutilized. The fun part of a heist movie is the planning before the heist — building up anticipation, the cast bouncing off of eachother in fun and meaningful ways as they try to solve the puzzles and confront challenges. But if they had done that, it would have been apparent to even these characters, that they cannot move THAT much money in a rickety helicopter. Here, It’s simple, go from one point to another and procure the money before a nuclear explosion occurs.
The Zombie section presents itself with an interesting King/Queen dynamic too, but nothing is build upon them or their initial story arc.
A movie so thin in plot can only work because of its characters. 3 Dimensional figures are needed for the action to impose any emotion.
Dave Bautista plays Ward, an ex military become cook, who gets the means to fix his life. Tanaka comes to him with a proposal to get his money from a safe situated in the zombie territory. If Ward is successful, he gets the untraceable 50 million dollars as a cut. After some brooding and an amazing scene later which showcased Bautista’s growing acting skills, he begrudgingly agrees and sets out to look for a team. He finds a Mister I will fuck a machine if I am left alone with it for long enough(Mathias Schweighöfer — He’s very lovable) to deal with the safe; I take no-shit-from anyone(Omari Hardwick), a friend of Ward or family as he says it; someone who is too horny and tries to pick up chicks during a life-threatening mission(Garret Dillahunt) and his daughter. There is more to the cast, but after that description, I am sure you’ll be able to conclude that most of them are there as zombie food.
The supporting cast, Mathias(Dieter), Hardwick(Van), and the helicopter pilot make the film lively and on occasions overshadow the better performance of Dave Bautista. Despite the subpar acting of Ella Purnell(then again..she couldn’t do much with that script), a few of the scenes between her and her father carry emotional weight. However the subplot involving Ward’s daughter, Kate(Ella Purnell) goes nowhere. You’d expect that after endangering everyone’s life, taking 20 minutes of screen time, there will be a conclusive proof that her actions meant something..but that subplot is dropped dead, much like these zombies.
Everyone in here feels invincible and vulnerable at the same time. A single character is able to fight hundreds of zombies to reunite with their group, then dies in front of them while a few of these screamers hold them back. Characters make dumb decisions even when they are established as being smart and rational in a scene prior. One of them decides to stay back with the group eventhough he completes his goal. People die unexpectedly to subvert expectations right after some personality is given to them. It’s frustrating.
That’s the thing about Zack Snyder in this movie, he builds up expectations and shatters them. He throws the idea of murdering completely fine humans(those living on the outskirts of the city)with the nuclear bomb, but it becomes inconsequential — so much so that people have a heart to heart while being on a 20 minute clock to destruction. He sets up stakes only to undercut them a moment later. That’s why when there is a plot twist near the end of the film, you don’t know if it will go somewhere or if its there just as an off hand comment. This is one of those blockbusters which works only on the action set pieces, there is nothing holding it together(atleast for me) which is a shame. If it was more streamlined and focused, perhaps it would have been a more engaging experience.