A group is hired to crack into a casino safe and recover the $200 million housed inside. However the heist has a bigger obstacle, as Las Vegas is overrun by zombies. Directed by Zack Snyder, Army of the Dead is an action-packed film that delivers everything you want from a zombie flick, with intriguing—and potentially genre-bending—additions. Although its hyper-stylized approach and packed storyline can distract at times.
After a zombie is accidentally set loose in the land of sin, the entire city of Vegas is quarantined as the population is infected. This raises an issue for casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose safe, full of millions, is right in the middle of the horde; which is due to be wiped out soon by a nuclear strike.
He approaches Scott (Dave Bautista), a former mercenary, with the offer to form a team, collect the money, and get paid. Scott agrees and begins recruiting his old mercenary pals (Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro), alongside a few other experts, including a safecracker (Matthias Schweighöfer).
As they enter the zombie-infested city, they soon learn that there are two types of zombies, with an evolved, more intelligent “Alpha” group ruling. With a whole set of new rules to follow, the heist will prove more tedious than they expected.
Army of the Dead feels like an epic Snyder film from the start. Dubbed a “spiritual sequel” to his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, you can see the parallels from its style and tone, to the hilariously out of place songs. Synder certainly knows how to pay respects to the genre, while putting his own signature twist on it too.
Setting the story in Las Vegas was a great idea and makes for a really wacky (in the best way) opening sequence. It’s so striking to see Vegas in such a desolate condition; the neon lights contrasting with the decaying inhabitants. The design and concept of the two zombies was quite interesting as well, though it reminded me too much of I Am Legend‘s uber-vamps. While I liked it, I would have preferred not seeing so many parallels between the two — even down to undead relationships.
One of the more impressive feats of the film was digitally placing Notaro into it, after she replaced Chris D’Elia, for obvious reasons. The addition was so incredibly seamless and honestly, a total improvement with her performance. I recommend after the film, watching the behind-the-scenes special, Creating an Army of the Dead, also available on Netflix. It’s really fascinating and breaks down every aspect of creating this zombie world.
I do think the film had some issues, though they don’t necessarily take away from the fun viewers will have. The rescue subplot, that’s a device for getting Scott’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) to tag along, is completely unnecessary and I wish they would have had a different reason for her joining, if at all. Their relationship evolution is also a little predictable, and was left disappointed by the redundant finale.
There’s also a very annoying hazy overlay on scenes that I really could not stand; like a bad Instagram filter. It felt like it was being used to blend the practical sets with the CGI background. Even more frustrating, there’s a great mechanical zombie head used for some scenes, and they totally wash it out with that blur.
Although Dawn of the Dead is much stronger (in my opinion), Army of the Dead is still an entertaining ride; which is definitely Snyder’s expertise. It delivers great zombie carnage, funny comedic moments, and an unexpected, winding set of theories — which may or may not include robots, aliens, and time paradoxes.
With multiple prequels and an anime series already set for Netflix, I’m excited to see where Snyder takes this franchise, where the theories will lead, and if we’ll perhaps get tangible ties to his first zombie flick.
Army of the Dead is now available on Netflix