Dec 12

Army of the Dead 2021

After an outbreak of zombies in Las Vegas, the authorities successfully isolate the city from the rest of the US. A few years later, casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada – Mortal Kombat) comes to military veteran Scott Ward (Dave Bautista – Guardians of the Galaxy) with an interesting offer. In exchange for a small mountain of money, Ward needs to assemble a team with which to break into the dead city and steal the millions gathering dust in one of the vaults. But they don’t have much time: in a few days, the military will drop an atomic bomb on Las Vegas and thus solve the problem of the zombie virus.

If you’ve seen movies like Ocean’s Eleven or (more appropriately) Armageddon and Aliens, you know roughly what comes next. Ward gathers a motley group of mercenaries and criminals. Their superior presents them with a seemingly simple operation plan. They are then directed into enemy territory where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The fact that the story is predictable is not a flaw but a virtue, because it follows a specific subgenre with its own game rules.

Netflix gave Zack Synder $90 million to do whatever he wanted. Regardless of what I think of the film, it seems to me that the team had a good time working on it. A good number of actors exaggerate their performances – in the best possible way. Say, Omari Hardwick (Sorry to Bother You) is a philosophizing Vanderohe veteran who has PTSD, but not so much that he couldn’t cure it with a bunch of money. Or Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood), who always does a great job playing sleazy villains. I must also mention the comedian Tig Notaro (Star Trek: Discovery) whose sarcastic female pilot refuses to take both the zombies and the mission seriously.


Speaking of zombies, the film presents Las Vegas not as an apocalyptic wasteland, but literally as a land of the living dead. Guides like Lily (Nora Arnezeder – Maniac) occasionally take people to Las Vegas and interact (somewhat) with the new rulers of the city whose kingdom has simple but very clear rules. At the same time, stuntmen Richard Cetrone and Athena Perample fantastically embody the king and queen of the undead – without a single word, but with the physical expressiveness of actors from silent films.


However, Army of the Dead has a big problem: it’s two and a half hours long. And you can feel it. Far too many scenes – from the action to the dialogue – leave the impression that they are just a little too long. Also, certain scenes and characters could have been removed completely and the story would have remained more or less the same. In addition, as the characters become kebabs for zombies one by one, the film drags more and more.

Army of the Dead seems to develop the syndrome of Croatian comedy, which is allowed to be funny, but only if someone dies tragically at the end. The film begins with spectacular and witty opening credits that tell us the story of the fall of Las Vegas in three minutes. But then it gradually turns into a funeral march. Synder – who is not only the director but also one of the screenwriters of the film – obviously wants us to care about the characters, but I’m not sure how well he succeeds.

And here we return to the character of Scott Ward. Dave Bautista is a charismatic monster of a man. Here he portrays a character who is surprisingly quiet and passive, especially compared to the monsters and caricatures around him. His relationship with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) should be the emotional center that will give some sense to the zombie carnage. In one scene, Scott tries to find out from Kate why she no longer communicates with him. She discovers that he is the one who unknowingly moved away from her. But just a few scenes later, Scott is having practically the same conversation with Maria (Ana de la Reguera – Narcos). In this way, something that should have been touching becomes unintentionally comical.

Moreover, I’m not sure if this movie needed any pathos at all. Army of the Dead would work just fine as an action-horror comedy in the style of a Zombieland movie. I feel like the characters just aren’t written well enough for the audience to care about them. But Snyder was never a subtle filmmaker, nor could he ever resist a nihilistic worldview. Because of this, even when he tries to make a dynamic and entertaining film, in the end, we somehow find ourselves back in the land of Čamotinja.

Army of the Dead is too long and too slow, with too many characters we care too little about. Even so, after Synder’s dismal Superman films, I’m pleased to see a new film from the director who directed the Dawn of the Dead horror remake a bunch of years ago. In any normal year, this movie would probably be a solid blockbuster. However, because the pandemic is still not over, we watch it on Netflix instead of in the cinema. Although the final result is far from perfect, rarely can a filmmaker boast such interesting misses as Zack Snyder.

A continuation of the film is not planned, but the world of Army of the Dead is still expanding with two Netflix prequels. The first is the film Army of Thieves, in which Matthias Schweighöfer will reprise the role of Ludwig Dieter. Shay Hatten wrote the script with the help of Snyder, and Schweighöfer will also direct the film, which we expect at the end of the year. Another project is the anime series Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, in which the main stars of the original film will lend their voices to the animated characters. The plot will also be set in the earlier stages of the epidemic where we will learn the full story of Scott Ward.

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