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Netflix Review: Army of the Dead

May 21, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, the director’s new zombie heist movie that is premiering on Netflix this weekend, is the sort of genre film that is made by a filmmaker with confidence in his style. And, after Zack Snyder’s Justice League, aka the fabled Snyder Cut, was finally released two months ago, it feels like the filmmaker taking a much deserved victory lap.

Snyder’s hyper-stylized filmmaking is on full display right from the start in Army of the Dead, with a bravura opening credits sequence set to an epic cover of “Viva Las Vegas” by Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe, showing Las Vegas descending into zombie madness. Say what you will about Snyder, but the man really knows how to cut together a sequence set to music.

Furthermore, this exciting, insanely gory, darkly funny and strangely emotional sequence does an excellent job of introducing us to the characters and setting up the plot. An illness has spread that turns people into zombies, and the undead have all been confined to Las Vegas. With the city walled off by stacks of shipping crates, the US government has plans to drop a nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert to wipe them all out.

But, here’s the kicker. There is $200 million in a vault under a casino that is ripe for the taking, and Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a man who helped push back the zombie hordes and now works in a diner, is approached by Japanese businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuko Sanada) to help get it out. Scott’s job is to assemble a team, get into the walled city, get the money, and get out alive before the nuke drops, taking $50 million for himself to be divided amongst his team however he sees fit. But, as is to be expected, things get messy once they get there and encounter a coordinated zombie threat.

His team includes fellow survivors Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), who helped fight their way out of the city. Scott also recruits helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro), safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), and zombie hunter Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), who has gained an online following filming himself shooting zombies in the head. Scott’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who volunteers in a government detention centre for displaced Vegas residents, insists on joining the team as well, upping Scott’s personal stake in the mission going smoothly.

As much as Army of the Dead finds Snyder flexing his muscles, it also presents a return to his roots, allowing him to play around in the same zombie sandbox as his 2004 feature directorial debut Dawn of the Dead. While Army is in no way an official sequel to Dawn, it could theoretically exist in the same universe. It’s a little looser than that film, which confined most of its action to an abandoned shopping mall, and not as visceral or scary, but the two function as good counterparts to each other.

It’s violent and exciting, with real stakes to it in terms of which characters will make it out alive, but Snyder also never loses sight of his sense of fun. The screenplay, which Snyder co-wrote, is filled with quippy dialogue and moments of dark humour, but he also makes us care enough about his leads to keep us invested in whether or not they will survive. The film is built around a solid leading man performance from Bautista, and the rest of the ensemble cast has fun interplay together. Notaro, who was digitally put into the film in post-production to replace Chris D’Elia after he was outed as a sexual predator, steals every scene with her sardonic one-liners.

Sure, the film is maybe a little grandiose in length at 148 minutes, and doesn’t have quite enough plot to fully flesh it out. But the action sequences are so much fun that it’s hard to really care. Yes, Army of the Dead is essentially a glorified B-movie, but it knows exactly what it wants to be and does it extremely well. Snyder does a very good job mixing elements of zombie movie and heist movie, in a way that feels true to both genres. He never once skimps on the gore and blown out brains, and he even throws in a zombie tiger just for good measure.

It would be a total cliche to call Army of the Dead a bloody good time, but it absolutely is one. The film comes at us fast and strong, delivering thrilling action matched by some amazing song choices, including a perfect needle-drop at the end that left me grinning from ear to ear. It’s nice to see Zack Snyder simply having fun after what he’s gone through these past few years, and Army of the Dead delivers the goods.

Army of the Dead is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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