Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder & Shay Hatten and Joby Harold
Oddly, in the year 2021, the most anticipated Zack Snyder movie is not his new one about zombie, but rather one which was already released. I think this is a perfect encapsulation of the state of moviemaking and fan culture in 2021. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a movie I admittedly did not watch after not enjoying the much maligned original cut of the film and having little interest in returning for nearly 4 hours of content, landed on the HBO Max streaming service in April and many fans felt vindicated and excited to see Snyder’s true vision on screen for the first time. A recycled and revamped superhero movie from 4 years ago garners more buzz and pop culture attention and writing then a new original film from a beloved by some filmmaker about zombies which also lands on an easily accessible streaming platform in the form of Netflix. I don’t get it. If we can move past what we’ve already seen and get more excited for new content, I think Army of the Dead would be the perfect film to be excited about.
Las Vegas has evolved from the opulent gambler’s paradise to a wasteland filled with the undead, on the verge of government destruction after a recent bill was passed to drop a bomb on the desert oasis in order to rid Nevada of its zombie infection. But with the clock ticking, suave businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) seeks a hired hand to lead a team of mercenaries into the quarantine zone in order to rob his casino’s vault, which is home to $200 million in cash which is set to simply incinerate in the explosion. With a nice cut in the offing, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) takes up the team lead role, recruiting his old zombie killing friends (Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro, Ana de la Reguera, Nora Arnezeder, Raul Castillo) from the original breakout years ago, and a young German wiz safebreaker (Matthias Schweighofer). Now mostly down and out and looking to improve their standing in life, each agrees to a small fortunate for putting their lives on the line in the dangers of Las Vegas for the benefit of a slick Japanese businessman, who is sure to have his own man (Garret Dillahunt) included on the team for oversight.
Zack Snyder is a little polarizing when it comes to his reputation amongst cinephiles and casual fans alike. He has an odd filmography which includes many films that are loved, some that are derided, and others that maybe you even forget he made. But for me, I usually land on the side of not being a fan, but as always, there are a few exceptions which will keep me coming back to his films to see whether the new one can land for me. He has undeniable skills and a very distinct style, and those capabilities show themselves quite clearly here in Army of the Dead, which means that it’s something that many fans of his past films will likely find a treasure trove to enjoy here. The zombies are terrifying and gruesome, the cinematography has a beautiful drabness about it, and the scenario is pure, fun zombie adventure action, full of gun fights and “cool” deaths.
But for the adrenaline rush that the film sounds like, it is surprisingly long and drags in many places. At nearly two and half hours, the softer side of the story feels extremely shoehorned in to give the movie heart and the audience connection to the zombie killers. This is not aided by the performances from a mostly fresh new cast with the exception of Dave Bautista, who himself has never really had a starring role or proved he can carry the entire weight of a film. As a result, these quieter moments are overlong and rear their heads far too often, cutting into the joy and thrill of the action sequences. I think Snyder bit off a little more than he could chew with this script, and would have done well instead to cut nearly an hour of fluff to get into the nitty gritty. A Las Vegas zombie heist movie sounds like a hell of a time, but we don’t get that here at all. We don’t need to know more about these characters other than that they’re mercenaries looking to make a quick score. And ramp up the campy zombie action fun and we’re on our way to a great time at the movies. That is unfortunately not what this movie is.
So very interesting that in a year where the most anticipated Zack Snyder film is an extra long cut of a failed movie, Snyder’s other film that will land this year is an example of a movie that could use a lot more of its content on the cutting room floor than what ended up in the finished product. So many fans want more and more and more, but the reality of filmmaking, and great filmmaking at that, is knowing what is needed and what is not, knowing when and where to cut, when to let the scene go on, and when to cut it shorter. It’s a delicate balance and not something that every filmmaker is capable of, but can often be a large reason why a film ultimately works or doesn’t. As I said, there is plenty of eye candy here to be excited about, and I think the premise is a knockout idea for a movie, so a good film exists within the confines of what Zack Snyder has delivered us, but it just happens to not be in the form of this final cut of the film. Maybe one day we can get another special edition cut of the film which highlights all the great things, and cuts out all the unnecessary fluff which ultimately drags the whole movie down.