Second-chance movies are suspenseful. Although I’m aware he has an arsenal of movies he has directed, including a different zombie one, this is only the second movie I’ve seen from director Zack Snyder. I watched his Batman v. Superman blockbuster back in 2016, with high expectations from its ad campaign, and even if I wasn’t expecting something monumental like Captain America: Civil War, I was sure it would at least be fun. But it was colourless, tired, unbelievably overlong, and it failed utterly to get me interested in what was going on or what would happen to a single character. I gave it a D. I hated it so much I nearly gave up on DC superhero movies, and it’s why I nearly didn’t watch Wonder Woman (which I ended up giving an A to.)
Truth is, I’ve looked at other films DC has helmed since then, but all of them have disappointed me, and I passed on Justice League, though I won’t lie when I say I’m sort of interested in Snyder’s four-hour version where everyone’s said it’s miles better. I’d been out of the loop on how people have advocated for this cut for years, and I’m really happy for Snyder and those who managed to accomplish enough demand for it to be released. But if I watch it, it would have to be in sections. Two-and-a-half hours is my limit on movies unless I’m truly invested, and I’ve never even come close to watching a four hour movie. With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts on the movie where I was giving Snyder another shot, Army of the Dead, in my opinion an astronomically entertaining time.
Army of the Dead is its own thing, beginning with the military transporting something kept in containment. It’s under such big confidence that the drivers have no clue what it actually is. On the other side of the road are a man and woman with something painted in white on their rear window with cans tied underneath it. Bet you can guess what it says. They end up goofing off as they head to wherever they were going on their honeymoon, and that leads into an accident between them and the escort. Due to this, what they were containing breaks free.
It is a man. Gray skin. Growling like a saber-toothed tiger and wanting to bite down on humans just like one. It’s not long before everyone in the escort is dead, except some who, well, don’t stay dead, and their sites end up being set on Vegas, the city right by them. Las Vegas soon ends up a zone walled off in a hurry with a million shipping containers, and though there must’ve been thousands of people outside of that city who died getting it sealed, no one infected escaped. I guess Vegas is in the middle of a desert so this idea is not really far-fetched. Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, one of the Vegas survivors who’s now flipping burgers. He has ideas for opening up a restaurant with more sophisticated food but can’t find the motivation after losing two of his loved ones in different ways after Vegas Breakout Day. Then he’s approached by a businessman, discussing this with him in the middle of the day with customers to overhear and all, that due to a scheduled bombing of Vegas to kill the only known place where there are thousands of zombies, the government has nulled 200 million dollars in a casino. Either every other casino with an easier safe has been looted, or every other casino carries nowhere close to that amount. Either way, Ward is hired, alongside some old and new friends, with one or two or more stowaways as they try to pull off a big heist in, well, zombieland.
The movie’s opening sets a comedic tone at first as it sings “Viva Las Vegas”, a song I first heard when I was six because it was in Looney Tunes: Back In Action, and it is sung while not only is Las Vegas turned into the crocodile pit to end all pits, but people have to watch their loved ones get eaten alive with no way to stop them. That’s when we realize there might be some funny moments in this film but it has punches it does not wish to pull.
It wastes no time setting up a heist crew I felt was rather giant, most of them there for just one thing, aside from having more ammo at their side. Still, the more, not exactly the merrier, because it’s easy to feel connection and devotion to a crew of four or five. Less so when the number’s twelve. But there’s no one who’s useless here. We may not really have the attention span to know and memorize all their names, but the helicopter pilot/mechanic, who is immediately likeable and hilarious, played by Tig Notaro, is able to fix up a copter that looks as broken as one of our old hairdryers must be right now if it’s been in a landfill all these years. The safecracker, played by Matthias Schwighofer, while dopey and never having fired a gun and even having self-doubt on his one job, knows what he’s doing as well.
And let’s talk about the creatures and special effects. Wow, are they well done. I was actually scared and creeped out, something harder to do the more makeup-heavy apocalypse movies you watch. The blood and gut splatters really don’t look like CGI. When a zombie’s head gets not only cut off but is still alive, is the actor or actress wearing a green screen suit or a green screen head cover? However they do it, it’s a take on zombies and bloodshed that never looks non-believable.
Not only that, but the movie managed to prove to me why it had to be almost two and a half hours; because there’s a little bit of history with how these people became how they are and more than a few goals besides off-radar money. These people grow on us. They welcome themselves to openness, humour, and there are a few romances, including an LGBT one that is both subtle and tremendously unforgettable. Plus there are some surprising extra agendas that come into play to keep us from feeling we’ve seen this movie already. I guess you can mainly thank the charisma of the actors, the believability and scariness of the actors playing the zombies, as well as a sense these zombies really aren’t dumb. They make Army of the Dead a movie you pay more attention and care to than otherwise.
There’s some disappointment in its climax, and a lot of really bad things happen to the characters. I won’t spoil how, how many or who. But some of what happens I not only wish didn’t happen, but if it had to happen, I wish it went more believably. Most of it is believable, I’ll put that out of the way, but one member on the team does something that’s both idiotic and incoherent, leading to carnage that could’ve been avoided. There’s also a character who saves a person’s life (on a positive note, it ends up one of the sweetest and bravest things I’ve ever seen) but I don’t see why he couldn’t have gone inside with the character and shut the door that way. There was time. Not only that, but the last bit of the film involves a scene that’s a very stupid and angering attempt to set up a sequel. So, suffice it to say, some of this movie made me upset. And those things in the climax are indisputably negative contributors to the film. But did it surprise me how invested I got and how committed it was to tell the story it set out to do? You bet. I guess not every story ends the best way for people.
If you see Army of the Dead, prepare to be as entertained as you will feel emotionally violated. It’s not for the faint of heart on not just gore, but convention twists and tragedy. In other words, it’s not just some new zombie heist flick. It’s…a movie.