In 'Army of the Dead', a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas results in the city being quarantined. A group of mercenaries, led by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) hope to take advantage of the situation by planning a heist which would mean stealing millions from a Vegas casino. The team are working against the clock though, as the city will soon be nuked…
'Army of the Dead' opens with a Vegas wedding, a blowjob in a car, a car crash, an explosion and a zombie attack. Well, this isn’t just any zombie movie – this is a Vegas zombie movie. In fairness, the "Viva Las Vegas" sequence that follows is a lot of fun (one particularly appreciates zombie Elvis and the zombie cabaret women). They’re certainly making the most of the setting, while not using it as a crutch either.
The violence of the zombie genre is also used to amusing effect. At one point, a zombie is shot to pieces until just nubs of legs are left – a horrific sight if it wasn’t so comical. Its storyline of mismatched anti-heroes on a mission almost recalls 'Suicide Squad', the comparison of a DC movie hardly being a stretch when the director is Zack Snyder. But unlike that movie, 'Army of the Dead' effectively uses montage to establish the main players and their roles with just enough about their backgrounds to prove useful and sympathetic. In fact, these sequences are surprisingly taut for a director who loves being indulgent. Moreover there are some pretty heart-breaking sacrifices in early scenes.
Tig Notaro (an addition to the cast in post-production, having replaced Chris D'Elia, who was cut from the movie after sexual misconduct allegations) arrives on the scene and just exudes coolness. The ensemble team share good chemistry, with Ella Purnell delivering a moving performance as Scott’s estranged daughter. Different character pairings produce entertaining back and forth conflict and banter. Matthias Schweighöfer as Ludwig, the comic relief guy who isn’t totally sure of how to fight off zombies, is a standout here.
Snyder exercises his love of slo-mo, but not to the excessiveness of his recent 'Justice League', and the soundtrack is good, though one wishes they’d use more originals than covers… Overall, the first act of 'Army of the Dead' is actually a lot of fun and really, really works.
Then there’s the middle, which involves the actual heist, and becomes a lot less interesting and a lot more sluggish. By the third act, it’s just boring and as limp as a dismembered zombie. Gone is the sense of fun and efforts to look suave, the focus instead reverting to the zombie genre trope of leaving as many characters who you’ve come to like as possible dead. In the end it all just feels a bit pointless. It’s a shame because there was some great potential here. It seems to be another case of Snyder taking himself a bit too seriously.
'Army of the Dead' streams on Netflix from May 21st.