Mike’s Review: Army of the Dead (2021)

★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Zack Snyder.

Gone are the days of Bub from Day of the Dead. Gone are the days of the zombie nurse, the fat guy zombie, and the Hare Krishna zombie from Dawn of the Dead. Gone are the half-dogs and headless zombies from Return of the Living Dead. Most importantly, gone is a fun but serious dissection of societal woes and man’s modern day pitfalls. 

Instead we’re now being fed a pile of ghastly super-hero zombies, that shriek like space aliens, and who are set inside a hyper-realized video game construct. It’s a sad state of affairs to be sure. One might even say that the zombie genre has jumped the shark, or in this case the albino zombie tiger. 

In the latest zombie offering from wunderkind director Zack Snyder were treated to a messy but sumptuous smorgasbord of entrails, monster zombies, the deeply commercial side of Las Vegas, and yes, as previously mentioned, an albino zombie tiger. 

In what can only be explained as a Spirit Halloween Super Store exploding on to the screen, Snyder turns out every possible stereotype imaginable. The rag tag group of down-trodden ex-special forces that assemble include: sexy hispanic bad-asses, quirky non-binary tough guys, virginal youngsters speaking truth to power, vaguely effeminate and indispensable experts, corporate creeps, hardened and battle-scared Rambo figures, and of course the smart, loyal, and black side-kick. 

Interestingly, Snyder previous played with a similar cross-section of society in 2004’s remake of the Dawn of the Dead. The difference is that the characters assembled in 2004 were believable and studied and not caricatures of wild costumed stereotypes. Also, unlike 1978’s Dawn of the Dead that used the mall as a fascinating character study of society’s failings, Snyder does little to pull apart the consumptive and commercial audacity of Las Vegas.

Fangoria! Woo!
I can’t believe we got all this crap at the mall!

This rag tag group is presented with the chance of a lifetime. Society has failed them. Their military service counts for little. They’re all stuck working dead end jobs. A billionaire, allegedly needing more billions, presents the too-good-to-be-true scenario to fry cook Scott Ward (Dave Bautista).  Zombies have overrun Las Vegas. It’s sealed tight. The military is going to drop a nuclear bomb on the city. It’s Scott’s job to grab the cash from a certain casino vault prior to the big bomb drop. 

Army of the Dead — not to be confused with the Evil Dead or Army of Darkeness — is an incredibly simple, but unfortunately complicated story filled with plot holes, excessive CGI, and a zombie king that may/may not be the result of military malfeasance. While it sure would be interesting to know the zombie king’s backstory, Snyder leaves out this exposition, or rather leaves it to our collective imagination. 

Scott’s team eventually makes their way in to the city with the help of a refuge camp coyote, Lily (Nora Arnezeder). Lily’s taken it upon herself to transport families in/out of Las Vegas to grab a couple poker chips, some errant cash, and maybe a souvenir or two. As soon as the team enters the strip the Army of the Dead becomes a non-stop fete of stabbing, chopping, shooting, and garish explosions. 

In true video game fashion there’s no subtly and the audience is repeatedly beat over the head with the sounds from clip after clip after clip being spilled out on to the strip. From an experiential standpoint, this is the rough equivalent to parking yourself on the couch and watching your nephew play Dead Rising and and Resident Evil 3 for two hours and 28 minutes.  If that’s your thing, by all means, get after it. 

Elements of Amy of the Dead are exquisitely developed. The cinematography, in some instances, is like nothing you’ve seen before. However, much of the Army of the Dead, is comprised of things you’ve seen over and over and over. The good (or bad) news is that Snyder leaves enough little kernels lying around that we may very well be blessed (or cursed) with Army of the Dead 2, 3, and 4. Stay tuned, the undead might not quite be dead. 

Army of Dead is Rated R — even though your aforementioned nephew has been taking in far worse video game images since he was six — and is streaming on Netflix. 

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