Zack Snyder's latest film has been available on Netflix since Friday. We watched the zombie action spectacle with Dave Bautista and Matthias Schweighöfer. You can read below whether “Army of the Dead” is worthwhile.
Zombie spectacle with starting difficulties
“Army of the Dead” has a very bumpy genesis. Already since 2004, after Snyder had wrapped up his “Dawn of the Dead” remake. The film is sometimes more, sometimes less active in production. At that time, he was offered the direction of an “Army of the Dead” film, which he had initially turned down due to other projects. A few years later the idea was unearthed again and in 2010 they even presented a man in the director's chair in “The Thing” maker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
After nothing came of it again, at first not much was heard from “Army of the Dead”. But in 2019, Netflix finally secured the rights that were previously held by Warner and signed Zack Snyder for direction, script and camera work. But that wasn't the end of the problem for the film. After filming was completed, Chris D'Elia, who was originally part of the cast, was faced with allegations of sexual harassment. Which is why his character was replaced by actress Tig Natora and his scenes were re-shot using body doubles and green screens.
When a film is made under such conditions, it is usually not a particularly good omen. But to anticipate part of the conclusion. You don't notice the complicated creation of Army of the Dead. Even the scenes shot with Tig Natory fit almost seamlessly into the overall picture and Snyder managed to create a handsome action spectacle despite the adversity. The visual implementation is particularly impressive. Here you can clearly see Snyder's handwriting. Who simply has a knack for visually stunning action scenes. Especially when you consider that Army of the Dead had a relatively low budget of 90 million dollars for blockbusters. Zombie-infested Las Vegas, created by Snyder, always looks good.
Zombie Movie meets Heist Movie
After Las Vegas is contaminated by “Patient-Zero” and overrun with zombies at the beginning of the film. The US Army succeeds in sealing off the city with a container barricade and thus containing the zombie epidemic. This is shown in a successful montage in which the zombies initially spread unstoppably in the city. While a few residents of the city put up desperately to defend themselves in order to buy enough time for the army to lock down. The scenes are oozing a lot of phatos and are accompanied by a “Viva Las Vegas” remix by Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe.
Some time later, the real plot of the film sets in. When the US government decides to eliminate the zombie problem with a nuclear warhead. Casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires a mercenary force led by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to recover $ 200 million from his casino's vault before it's too late. In addition to the time pressure, there is of course the small problem that there is an army of undead between Scott and the money. In order to become this master, he recruits a colorful team consisting of various experts.
Flat characters with a lot of chemistry
In addition to his old companions Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderhohe (Omari Hardwick), he also hires the cursing helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro) and the German Tressor-Knacker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). The group is rounded off by other more or less crazy characters who mainly know how to kill zombies, as well as Tanaka's security expert Martin (Garret Dillahunt). Finally, his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) joins the gang against Scott's will.
You don't have to say more about the individual characters. Because the figures are taken 1 to 1 from the action kit. But this is not a problem, as the film does not want to draw realistic or profound characters. Schweighöfer's character Dieter acts as a nerdy comic relief with the heart in the right place. Which proves again and again that he can scream like a girl. The battle-tested Vanderhohe is characterized by the fact that he likes to throw around philosophical quotes and theories. And between Scott and Kate a seemingly complicated father-daughter relationship is established, which is broken off with 3-4 dialogues.
But none of this is of great importance. Because you can tell the actors that they had fun on the set. The chemistry between everyone involved is excellent and this is also carried over to the audience. Dave Bautista in particular proves his ability again and shines in the few emotional moments of the film. Just like during the countless action scenes.
Sometimes less is more
In addition to many positive aspects, “Army of the Dead” also has to accept a few points of criticism. So some interesting aspects are picked up only to then drop them completely, or not to exhaust their potential. For example, like in I'm Legend with Will Smith, the zombies are represented as much more intelligent beings with feelings. Against the background of a possible continuation and since it is an essential element of the plot, I can still forgive that this premise is not fully exploited. But this does not apply to other interesting ideas.
It is suggested that the possibility of a zombie infection is used as an instrument to put people in political prison. But why this is so, how it is implemented and who is affected by it. Will not be discussed in more detail in the further course of the film. Instead, some scenes in the film focus on a completely unnecessary sub-plot in which Kate tries to free a friend from Las Vegas. The friend surrounded by the zombies acts as their motivation. But this could have been established differently without investing screen time on this sub-plot.
In short, the film could have saved itself these unnecessary ideas and scenes. Either to tighten the somewhat long runtime. Or to give the characters a little more depth and background.
“Army of the Dead” is an action spectacle that can convince with well staged and visually stunning action. Neither does the film want to force interpersonal conflicts like “The Walking Dead”. He still wants to establish a dramatic plot like in “Dawn of the Dead”. The film manages to throw the audience exactly what one expects as an action fan in easily digestible nibbles. Without becoming a satire alá “Zombie Land”. The whole thing is peppered with zombie-typical splatter and a few really explicit scenes. Action and zombie fans can access it without any problems. Everyone else will notice after the first 15 minutes whether the film is for them or not.