Review: Army of the Dead

What’s Going On?

After a military convoy transporting a dangerous payload is involved in an accident, the zombie inside escapes beginning a series of infections that consumes all of Las Vegas. Years after quarantining the city, the government decides to nuke Las Vegas destroying what remains of the zombies. Scott Ward, a former soldier who specialised in dealing with zombies, is approached by a sinister businessman about travelling to Las Vegas and recovering the $200,000,000 in a casino vault before the nuke destroys the city. Ward puts together a team including his former comrades and other experts needed to get in, get the money and get out.

Behind The Scenes

Army of the Dead is directed by Zack Snyder, one of the most successful directors working today, being the driving force behind the biggest DC films, as well as 300, Watchmen and the remake of Dawn of the Dead – a film I love and so was excited to learn of a new Snyder zombie film.

In Front Of The Camera

Army of the Dead
Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) shooting zombies in a casino // Credit Netflix

The film has a large ensemble cast but Dave Bautista in the lead as Scott Ward. Bautista has had an exceptionally interesting acting career as part of a long list of professional wrestlers who moved into acting but unlike most, Dave Bautista is very good.

Does It Work?

Army of the Dead
Tig Notaro in the best picture from the film that’s been released // Credit: Netflix

The film is certainly a lot of fun as a mashup genre of zombie and heist film set in Las Vegas should be. The action scenes are very well done with an impressive level of carnage and destruction visited on Las Vegas. Dave Bautista is very good as the leader of the team and settles into a role he has played a few times now – the powerful tough guy but who is actually quite nice. Aside from the money, Ward is motivated by reconnecting with his daughter, Kate, who is a volunteer in the quarantine camps outside Las Vegas. These camps being a convenient place to put any difficult people who under the guise of containing the zombie infection. The rest of the cast does a good job: there is Garrett Dillahunt as the immediately suspect Martin, the very cool Nora Arnezeder as Lilly aka The Coyote and the mismatched pair of Omari Hardwick as Vanderohe, a tough army veteran and Matthias Schweighofer as Dieter, eccentric and comparatively harmless Dieter, the safe cracker.

Army of the Dead also plays with the usual zombie rules. I know there a lot of zombie traditionalists who will only tolerate the slow zombies of the Romero films but personally, I see no harm in changing things. After all, there are a thousand variations in vampire mythology, from Dracula to Let The Right One In to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and that diversity is a good thing. If zombie films were limited to a very specific set of rules you’re quickly going to run out of ideas. In Army of the Dead, there are Alphas – these are faster, stronger and more intelligent zombies, the zombie who escaped the convoy was an Alpha and everyone he infected became an Alpha (those they infected became the slower, shambling zombies).

The assembled team as well as Ward and his former soldier colleagues has a safe cracker, helicopter pilot, a zombie assassin, a representative of the sinister businessman and a “coyote”, Lilly, who helps people sneak into Las Vegas to steal the valuables left inside. Almost immediately fractures in the group appear, leading the helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) having a conversation about “triage” – i.e. ranking the importance of each member and keeping them alive, with her as the pilot who will get them out of Las Vegas as one of the more important.

The film does make some mistakes. First, it’s two and a half hours long, in fact, two minutes longer than mob epic Goodfellas. This does seem to be a problem with modern films as some directors seeming to think it’s not worth making a film less than two hours. Second, the film tries to bring in more serious topics, such as the relationship between Ward and his daughter and some clumsily handled political issues around the quarantine camps. That’s not to say that a zombie film cannot deal with these subjects, but the film is split between huge zombie-slaying spectacle and these heavier issues, with the more serious stuff not getting enough attention to be properly addressed and developed in the film. I would rather have had a simpler storyline that leaned more into the zombie-heist idea.

Army of the Dead
Zombies running amok in Las Vegas // Credit: Netflix

Army of the Dead is an enjoyable film, especially for those who like the zombie genre. It’s not a great film and takes itself too seriously at times but a good cast, some new zombie ideas and an interesting combination of heist and zombie genre help make it a lot more than just another zombie movie.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Also Read: #Alive (Review)

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Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.