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 origin story. It's been since 2004, after Snyder wrapped his Dawn of the Dead remake. The film is sometimes more, sometimes less actively in production. At that time he was already offered to direct an "Army of the Dead" film, which he initially turned down due to other projects. A few years later, the idea was dug up again and in 2010, with "The Thing" maker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., they even presented a man in the director's chair.
After nothing came of it, you didn't hear much from "Army of the Dead" at first. But in 2019, Netflix finally secured the rights that had previously been held by Warner and hired Zack Snyder for direction, script and camera work. But that was not the end of the problems for the film. After filming wrapped, Chris D'Elia, who was originally part of the cast, faced allegations of sexual harassment. Which is why his character was replaced by actress Tig Natora and his scenes were reshot 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
At the beginning of the film, Las Vegas is contaminated by "Patient-Zero" and overrun with zombies. Can the US Army seal off the city with a container barricade and thus contain the zombie epidemic? This is shown in a successful montage, in which the zombies initially spread unstoppably through the city. While a few residents of the city are fighting back desperately to buy the army enough time to lockdown. The scenes are oozing with a wonderful amount 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 put up with a few points of criticism. So some interesting aspects are taken up only to be dropped completely or not to exhaust their potential. For example, the zombies are shown as much more intelligent creatures with feelings, similar to Will Smith's I'm Legend. Against the background of a possible sequel and since it is an essential element of the plot, I can still forgive the fact 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". Nor does he want to establish a dramatic plot like in “Dawn of the Dead”. The film manages to give viewers exactly what action fans expect in easily digestible chunks. Without becoming a satire ala "Zombieland". The whole thing is peppered with zombie-typical splatter and a few really explicit scenes. Action and zombie fans can access without any problems. Everyone else notices after the first 15 minutes whether the film is something for them or not.