Army of the Dead

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Dave Bautista in Army of the Dead.
Dave Bautista in Army of the Dead.
Photo: Clay Enos/Netflix


Army of the Dead




2/5 Stars


After hordes of zombies overtake Las Vegas, the US government announces that they have no choice but to nuke the entire city. Before that happens, though, a billionaire industrialist, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), enlists Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to bring together a team of mercenaries, criminals and tough guys for what may well be a suicide mission: to retrieve millions of dollars stored in Tanaka's vault within the new zombie kingdom.


Zack Snyder fans must have felt a real sense of vindication when not only did their incessant nagging result in Snyder getting a chance to release a new, very different director's cut of his doomed Justice League movie, Zack Snyder's Justice League, as it ended up being called, turned out to be a huge improvement on the theatrical cut and a major improvement on Snyder's own past work with DC Comics' premier superheroes. Their lord giveth and their lord taketh away, however, because only the most die-hard "Snyderbronies" would rush to the defence of Army of the Dead: Snyder's much-ballyhooed return to the zombie genre, which was released on Netflix mere weeks after his cut of Justice League proved to be much better than anyone, least of his critics, could have expected.  

Before Snyder made a career out of misunderstanding some of the greatest ever comic books and comic book characters, he released one of the most confident and well-received début feature films to come out this century: his surprise adaptation of George Romero's classic zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. Personally, I felt about 2004's Dawn of the Dead much the same as I have felt about most zombie stories released over the past couple of decades: it ain't Shaun of the Dead – which for my money, remains the final word of the entire genre – but it was still a solid, well-put-together zombie flick that even had echoes of the social commentary that was always at the heart of Romero's zombie tales.

Dawn of the Dead was a hell of a calling card, and Snyder has failed miserably to live up to it. He certainly hasn't done so with the comic book adaptations that have taken up most of his time (300 was fun, but his Watchmen was a pale, superficial adaptation of arguably the greatest graphic novel ever and the less said about his Superman, the better). Nor with his random adaptation of a popular children's novel (anyone remember Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole? No? Me neither). And certainly not with his sole original creation in fifteen years (Sucker Punch - which is both the name of the film and a description of what it felt like watching it).     

Despite not being a sequel to either his remake or to the rest of Romero's own series (despite it co-opting Romero's "Of the Dead" for its title), there was still at least some hope that this might be Snyder returning to his humble beginnings; a chance to escape the many stylistic ticks that have made him a parody of himself. Sure, it was two-and-a-half hours long, but hey, Snyder is clearly someone who needs a lot of space to tell his stories. Plus, at least this way, we wouldn't have another monotonous "release the Snyder cut" campaign. 

No such luck, as it turns out.

Sure, it didn't have me wanting to angrily attack the screen in the way that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman did, and, actually, the only thing truly offensive about it is how bloody long it is, but Army of the Dead is just... bad. It's badly conceived and badly executed with bad characters spouting bad dialogue over badly handled action set pieces. There are actually less of Snyder's usual stylistic ticks on display here (he apparently used up most of his slow-motion on Justice League), but Army of the Dead proves once again that I'm right about the biggest problem with all of his films: they are both incredibly stupid and utterly without the required self-awareness to use that stupidy to their advantage (see the Fast and Furious franchise).

You can find countless YouTube videos gleefully tearing into all of the massive plot holes and dumb-as-nails storytelling decisions that make up the entirety of the film's long running time – and I noticed many myself, but there are probably too many for any one person to catch – but despite my not being a fan of Snyder's in general, even I was surprised by how incompetent every aspect of the film ended up being.

There are some performances here that are more noticeably awful than anything I've seen in a major Hollywood film in years, but even the best performances here fall seriously below par – though Tig Nataro is clearly having a blast as a very last-minute addition to the film (no time to get into it here but do read up on her involvement in the movie; it's by far the most interesting thing about it).

The script by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold is just jaw-droppingly poor: it's hard to tell what's worse – its hopelessly naff attempts at humour or the hilariously inept attempts at sentimentality. Nah, it's probably that it contains one of the worst cast of characters I've seen in an ostensibly "likeable" film in years – ranging as they do from extremely bland to extremely annoying.  

Even visually, while Army of the Dead has a certain panache, Synder's decision to shoot much of the film out of focus is even more perplexing and irritating than his usual love affair with slow motion. His laughably on-the-nose needle drops, meanwhile, are present as ever.

It is, to reiterate, a very, very, very bad movie. The only thing that redeems it, really, is that it is so bad, it's... well, not good, exactly, but not without some sense of fun. There is some nicely gooey zombie gore, and that Snyder tries to fit in every sort of zombie imaginable into one film (zombie robots! Why? Who cares!) is kind of entertaining, but mostly it's just fun to laugh at how very, very stupid it is. It would be more fun if it were an hour shorter, but with its mix of earnestness and utter ineptitude, it could well become a cult classic like The Room – with fake blood and guts used in place of spoons at midnight screenings, perhaps? Sounds fun.

Well, it would be if someone hadn't decided that this was to be only the start of a bigger Army of the Dead franchise with numerous sequels, prequels, and spin-offs being worked on as we speak. All written, directed or at least overseen by Zack Snyder, no doubt!

Ah, hell.

Here we go again, I guess...


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