‘Army of the Dead’

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JD Jones, Arts & Entertainment

2021 seems to be the year of filmmaker Zack Snyder! Having already released his final cut of “Justice League” earlier this year on HBO Max, Netflix has just debuted his latest original effort, “Army of the Dead”. Centering on a group of mercenaries using a zombie outbreak as a cover to pull off a heist of epic proportions, this movie seemed to be, in a way, a return to form for the director. His first film was already a zombie film, 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead”, (these movies aren’t related, by the way), and after dealing with DC for so long, it’s nice to return to a different, but still familiar, world in which Snyder is comfortable. 

It’s initial popularity on Netflix has been high, and from a critical perspective, the action, humor, and lead performance from Dave Bautista have been praised. It seems that the largest areas of concern however, include a bloated runtime and poorly executed emotions.

What did I think of “Army of the Dead”? I’ve made it no secret that I’m not Snyder’s biggest fan, but after seeing a few trailers for this, as well as liking “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” more than I had thought, I was looking forward to this. This seemed like a fun sort of throwback to his early filmmaking career, and having a more simplistic story seems to be more of his wheelhouse. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything with action, zombies, and Dave Bautista, who has done a pretty good job in most of his big blockbuster roles, especially as Drax for the MCU. So, despite this movie’s flaws, there were definitely moments and parts that I did like from “Army of the Dead”.

Action-wise, the movie is phenomenal. It’s always been a strong suit of Snyder as a director, and for the ninth straight time, he excels! Finally moving away from the big CGI battles that come with superhero movies, the close-quarter shootouts are some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in this type of movie. The rush of zombies feels like a constant threat, and every choreographed move just feels so calculated. I also really enjoyed most of the acting. Bautista does a great job here playing sympathetic lead Scott Ward, while Tig Notaro’s sarcastic pilot Peters, Omari Hardwick’s hardened vet Vanderohe, and Nora Arneseder’s conflicted warrior Lilly are all great highlights as well. Furthermore, the practical and CGI effects are really great, and I love the premise! A heist set in a zombie apocalypse is absolutely genius for a blockbuster, and Snyder’s dedication to the worldbuilding is clear.

I do have some gripes with “Army of the Dead” though, such as the length. Snyder took a simple blockbuster premise and stretched it just a bit too far in my opinion. I’m not opposed to longer movies, but unless they are appropriately paced and justify the runtime, you’re going to have issues. Personally, it felt like there were a lot of unnecessary scenes, and while the runtime didn’t affect me as horribly as it did for a few others, I just don’t think this movie warrants a two-and- a-half-hour runtime.

 I also felt that visually, this is Snyder’s weakest movie. Acting as his own cinematographer for the first time, too many shots in “Army of the Dead ” have the background out of focus for stylistic choice. It looks okay in specific scenes, but at certain points, it becomes annoying and unnecessary. The emotional story beats here just do not work at all. I can understand and even accept a subpar script for a zombie movie (if you’re looking for high art in one, you’re in the wrong place), but it’s clear that Snyder wants to focus on a strained father-daughter relationship between Bautista and Ella Purnell as Kate for an emotional core. His intentions are far from ill, but with such limited character development and cliche execution, it had no impact on me whatsoever.

Despite these flaws, I did enjoy “Army of the Dead” quite a lot! It’s in the action and exploration of its premise that it really shines, and if you focus on that, you’ll have a fun time! However, I wouldn’t go in expecting too much, and hopefully you can sit through a longer runtime than what’s really needed. In terms of absolute bonkers entertainment, Netflix and Snyder have hit a huge home run this year! Snyder is helping oversee two more projects related to this movie: a prequel called “Army of Thieves” and an animated show named “Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas”, and maybe some more exploration into this universe will make me retroactively like this movie even more!