REVIEW: Army of the Dead (2021)

dir. Zack Snyder.

After his divisive adaptions of DC characters Zack Snyder returns to the world of zombies for the first time in almost 20 years, following his hugely successful reboot of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

The scene is set early on, with soldiers transporting a mysterious container whilst theorising about what lurks within: but when a newly married couple inadvertently cause a collision the payload opens. The result? A zombie outbreak in Las Vegas. This is where the director deploys an old favourite, utilising a montage of Vegas falling to the undead (set unsurprisingly to “Viva Las Vegas”). Cut to some time later and the city is walled off and under quarantine, and former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a proposition: assemble a crew to recover $200 million from his casino vault before a nuclear strike obliterates the city.

If there’s one thing audiences often agree on it’s how stylish a director Snyder is, and on that front he delivers. The zombie action is effective, grisly destruction showcased in all its gory glory. This is best exemplified in a number of set-pieces, from a booby-trapped hallway being a particular delight to a standout sequence involving a maze of slumbering zombies the characters must move around. Unfortunately many moments are hampered by the dim lighting or out of focus shots, aspects which take away from the excitement. Whilst the thrills are delivered tension is notably lacking, particularly when a countdown element feels like a forced plot-convenience too far.

More interesting are the world-building elements regarding the zombies themselves. Las Vegas is their kingdom, and the soldiers have more to worry about than just shooting them in the head. The traditional mindless ghouls appear but they follow a hierarchy, with the super-strong and intelligent Zeus serving as their king. He’s found love, built a family, cares for his citizens, and must watch it all come down before his undead eyes. As the invading forces decimate his home and their inhabitants for personal gain, it’s an interesting parallel for what America keeps doing to places such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, nations whose people have sometimes been represented as less than human in Western culture: an evocative idea, but one which could have been expanded further here.

No stranger to lengthy runtimes Snyder’s latest runs to 148-minutes and it’s certainly felt. With so much time available, one wishes the character development and relationships were more fleshed out. Granted, Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) is an endearing safecracker who’s never killed a zombie before, and Peters (Tig Notaro) brings a fantastic energy which helps the quips land. They’re sadly the exception though, as each rise in the body count just makes that hollow feeling more noticeable, from dimly lit beginning to rushed finale. With two prequels in the works this won’t be the last audiences see of this world or these characters: here’s just hoping those instalments are more successful and a little less shambling.

James Rodrigues

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