If you’re a fan of gory, action-packed films with unthinkable amounts of violence and little-to-no character development, you should be well versed in the works of Zack Snyder. You may remember Snyder as the director of the 2007 “historical” action film 300, which became a benchmark for over-the-top action films as soon as it was released.
He also directed the 2004 remake of the classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead, which firmly cemented Snyder as a prominent figure in the action-horror genre. For fans of these bloody, overly violent action flicks, character development and warm-and-fuzzy moments of human connection are at the bottom of the list of priorities, which is exactly where his most recent film Army of the Dead missed the mark.
Like pretty much all of Snyder’s films, Army of the Dead delivers what action horror fans are looking for: a buff dude slicing up zombies with a circular saw, a scene where Samantha Win (Chambers) kills nearly a hundred zombies in the span of one minute, and macho man Dave Bautista (Scott Ward) launching a card table all the way across a Las Vegas casino floor, taking out numerous zombies in the process.
In terms of directing firefights and hand-to-hand combat, Zack Snyder was as on-point as Ella Purnell (Kate Ward) in the scene where she headshots ten zombies in a row (even though her character seemed to have zero experience handling a firearm).
The major problem with Army of the Dead was the drawn-out, hollow scenes of father-daughter relationship struggles, the unexplained relationship between Kate Ward and refugee Geeta, and the baseless romantic tension between Scott Ward and Maria Cruz. These scenes were far from touching, made me feel embarrassed for the actors tasked with reciting the shallow dialogue, and left me thinking, When will it end? When are they going to get back to pumping the undead full of hollow tips?
Army of the Dead Synopsis
Army of the Dead starts out hot with a scene in which a man receiving road head crashes into a military convoy transporting a mysterious container. After one of the military trucks explodes in a most excessive and unrealistic way, the container is opened and the soldiers are told over the radio to get as far away from the container as possible.
Before they’re able to escape, a grey-skinned super-zombie jumps out of the container and starts snapping necks and tossing soldiers around like ragdolls. The soldiers who have been bitten are then infected with the virus and turn into zombies themselves.
The zombie horde makes its way into Las Vegas and completely overruns the city. The opening credit sequence, which features a version of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” is certainly no drop-off in violent energy.
It shows the stars of the film, a team of mercenaries tasked with extracting the survivors in the undead-ridden city, slaughtering zombies in every way imaginable. As the opening credits come to an end, we discover that the government responded to the zombie invasion by quarantining Las Vegas. Refugee camps have been set up all around the outskirts of the city for the uninfected.
Six years after the zombie virus wreaks havoc on Las Vegas, a casino owner named Bly Tanaka recruits former mercenary Scott Ward to gather a team with the purpose of extracting $200 million from the vault of a Las Vegas casino. Of course, Ward accepts the offer and there’s a classic action movie montage where Scott Ward goes around convincing his friends to join the team.
Scott Ward’s estranged daughter, Kate, just so happens to volunteer at the refugee camps on the outskirts of the city and he tries to use the mission as a way of reconnecting with her, which she isn’t very receptive to at first. However, when Kate discovers that her friend Geeta has been lost inside the city, she convinces her father to let her join the team and search for her missing friend.
Once inside the city, they encounter the freaky zombie queen, who they appease by sacrificing a refugee camp security guard who they convinced to come into the city with them. He exposed himself as a rapey powermonger earlier in the movie, so you don’t really feel bad for him. The team moves on into the casino and has to tiptoe through a maze of hibernating zombies, which inevitably turns into a firefight that results in the death of one of the team members.
While the team is inside the casino, Martin, an employee of Bly Tanaka, kills the zombie queen and puts her head in a bag. He reveals that his real motivation for coming into the city was to get the queen’s head, as it’s far more valuable than the $200 million inside the casino vault. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew is inside the casino trying to unlock the vault before a nuke gets dropped on the city and kills them all.
With the zombie queen now dead, her zombie husband, the leader of the horde, goes absolutely berserk. He leads a charge of intelligent zombies to Bly’s casino to get revenge on the team. The team successfully opens the vault but is forced to abandon the money as a wave of flesh-hungry zombies charges after them. Martin gets mauled by a zombie tiger. Lilly gets impaled by a metal pike. Everyone dies except for Scott Ward, Kate Ward, Geeta, and Peters, the helicopter pilot.
Scott Ward accidentally shoots Peters in the head when the zombie king jumps onto the helicopter and struggles to kill Ward, which causes the helicopter to crash, killing Geeta. Scott and Kate Ward are the only survivors of the helicopter crash; however, when Scott discovers that he’s been bitten by the zombie, Kate is forced to shoot her father in the head.
The film ends with Vanderohe, another member of the team with a proclivity for buzzsaw combat, flying away from the city in a private jet, only to discover that he’s been bitten and laughing at himself in the jet’s bathroom mirror.
Army of the Dead Critiques
There were a lot of awesome things about Army of the Dead. The action scenes were bloody, gory, and all-around amazing. The scene in which Chambers has to fight for her life by duel-wielding and pistol-whipping zombies, taking out around a hundred before ultimately being blown up in a blaze of glory, was cinematic gold.
Seeing Vanderohe slaughtering zombies with an oversized buzzsaw was deliciously campy and entertaining. And grumbling Dave Bautista once again proved why he’s the perfect specimen for over-the-top action movies.
There were also some pretty original aspects of Army of the Dead that strayed from the zombie movie norm. There was a zombie horse and a zombie tiger, both of which I don’t think I’ve seen in another zombie film.
The setting of Las Vegas gave us unique scenes involving zombified male strippers and burlesque dancers. But, most of all, the sympathy that the film created for the zombies themselves was an interesting element.
By the end of the movie, I felt for the king and queen zombies, who had a baby on the way and seemed to just be trying to protect their home. I found it sad to watch the zombie queen get killed, knowing that she would never be able to feel the joy of raising her zombie spawn.
While the unspoken bond between the king and queen zombies was palpable, the human relationships in the film were anything but. The relationship between Scott and Kate Ward seemed to lack substance.
The rift between them was a result of Scott Ward “not being around enough,” a trope that came off as extremely overused and cliched. There’s this whole thing where Scott keeps asking Kate what kind of food truck he should open when they escape the city that was simply cringe-worthy and poorly executed.
The relationship between Geeta and Kate is never really explained either. The two of them became friends in the refugee camp and Kate helped Geeta take care of her kids. But would Kate really be willing to run into a casino full of intelligent and vicious zombies (while a nuke soared over the horizon to blow the city to smithereens) to save this woman? I have my doubts.
Finally, toward the end of the film, fellow mercenary Maria Cruz reveals her secret love for Scott Ward only minutes before she gets her neck snapped by the zombie king, causing her spine to poke out of her neck. This revelation of romantic love came from the parking lot behind left field and felt so unfounded that I was questioning whether I had actually heard it correctly. There was also the fact that Ward and Cruz had stood there talking about their romantic feelings for several minutes despite the fact that a nuclear bomb was set to hit the city in less time than it takes to read this article.
All in all, Army of the Dead was good entertainment. It was a solid action movie with some original elements that I enjoyed for the most part. However, I think we could have all done without the flimsy, mushy, forced “heart-warming” moments that were embarrassing for the actors and screenwriters alike. As the prequel, Army of Thieves, is set to be released in October, let’s all keep our fingers crossed that Zack Snyder learned his lesson. More badass action, fewer touchy-feelies.