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Film Review: Army of the Dead

23 May 21 words: George White

After the success of Zack Snyder's Justice League, the popular filmmaker is back with the action-packed zombie flick... 

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
Running time: 148 minutes

Ever since the trailer for Army of the Dead first dropped, the film promised viewers one thing: fun. And, at times, it certainly delivers on that promise. There are undoubtedly flashes of the innovative filmmaking qualities that make director Zack Snyder so revered by many, but nowhere near enough to make this a truly memorable viewing experience. In fact, it could well be the most average, relatively-enjoyable-yet-ultimately-unremarkable thing you’ll find on Netflix right now. 

With its plot amounting to, on a basic level, a vault heist obstructed by zombies - lots of zombies - Army of the Dead tells the story of a rag-tag group of mercenaries, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, as they attempt to retrieve $50 million from a casino in Las Vegas - which has been quarantined after being overrun by the undead. What follows is brutal (and often very stylish) violence, half-arsed attempts at emotion and an immeasurable amount of slow motion (like, seriously, please Zack, no-mo slow-mo - this film could have finished an hour earlier without it). 

The central selling point of this flick is very much the action and, for the most part, it steps up to the plate. From the opening credits - as audiences are treated to a montage of our heroes blowing zombie brains onto walls, floors and each other, all while a hearty rendition of Viva Las Vegas plays in the background - Army of the Dead supplies a steady stream of enjoyable set pieces and captivating combat. 

Managing to add tension to its slower, more intimate scenes while bringing the thrills with its more fast-paced sequences, there are fist-pumping moments aplenty as the crew navigate their way through the city.

This might be worth a watch for some mindless escapism, but it’s definitely not one you should be dead excited about

Snyder presents new and original additions to the oversaturated zombie genre, with new ‘alpha’ members of the living dead proving smarter, stronger and more terrifying than in many other movies. This raises the stakes and leads to some truly gripping moments, keeping things fresh when they threaten to feel too familiar. One particularly inventive creation, though, fails to really hit home - with a potentially fascinating foe in the form of an actual zombie tiger falling flat due to some surprisingly shoddy CGI. 

Where this film (really) misses the mark is in its emotional storytelling and character development. Not one of the leads is particularly interesting, making it difficult to connect to them or their struggles - which is a shame, considering Snyder spends an excessive amount of time desperately trying to make things click. Whenever the bloody bonanza comes to a standstill and slow, dragged-out emotional beats are given to these characters and their relationships, the film becomes significantly weaker for it.

The women of Army of the Dead are particularly underserved, with fridging - the inexcusable practice of killing off often female characters to serve the emotional narrative of the men - occurring so regularly a cold chill almost emanates the screen.

This weak storytelling is even more of an issue because of the film’s ridiculously lengthy runtime, which feels utterly and frustratingly self indulgent. An already predictable and disengaging narrative is made all the more ineffective by Snyder’s insistence on making each scene, each moment, twice as long as it needs to be. A more concise and streamlined cut of this film would be far more appealing, ensuring the action stays front of centre throughout. Simply put, it’s time to #ReleaseTheConciseCut. 

All in all, despite offering a decent amount of absorbing action and stimulating set pieces, Army of the Dead fails to fully deliver on the edge-of-your-seat entertainment it initially promised. There are undoubtedly fun moments, but these are massively overshadowed by a poor script and shallow, borderline boring characters. This might be worth a watch for some mindless escapism, but it’s definitely not one you should be dead excited about.

Army of the Dead is now available on Netflix. 

Did you know? Zack Snyder cut a crude visual gag from the film that showed a male stripper with a huge penis that had a bite taken out of it, because he thought it went too far.

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