The Movie Guru: Zack Snyder offers up gory fun with “Army of the Dead”
Clearly, Zack Snyder is more comfortable with dead people than he is with superheroes.
His latest movie, “Army of the Dead,” is the most entertaining he’s been in years. Premiering this weekend on Netflix, the movie offers a fresh twist on the zombie genre by adding a healthy dose of action movie, some heist movie zest, and a light sprinkling of humor. While the different elements don’t blend quite as well in the movie’s final moments, most of the movie offers enough extravagant, gory fun to keep your attention throughout. Since the movie tops out at two and a half hours, that’s a major accomplishment.
The movie has the zombie apocalypse start just outside Las Vegas, thanks to the unfortunate meeting of a military convoy and a pair of too-frisky newlyweds. It zips through the early days to a world where Vegas is now a containment area and a bunch of former zombie fighters have gone back to civilian life. When a rich businessman sends them back inside to collect $200 million that had been left behind in a safe, they assemble a team and venture back in to zombie territory.
For much of the movie, “Army of the Dead” comes off as a particularly gory team action film with heist elements. The key to both heist and action movies is the team, and here we get a nice mix anchored by the deeply watchable Dave Bautista. There’s a good mix of character types, and there’s even a handful of relationships the movie deftly sketches out in the middle of all the action. Honestly, I would enjoy watching these people steal money whether or not zombies were involved.
If I had to pick a standout, it would be Tig Notaro as the slightly crazy pilot character so beloved by the action genre. She came to the movie at the absolute last minute (many of her scenes were cut in after-the-fact) and she still manages to be the most consistently entertaining character on screen. Hollywood, please consider replacing more of your grizzled, tough-as-nails male characters with Notaro. Audiences will thank you.
Other genre changes, however, don’t come off quite so well. The zombies operate on questionable fictional logic that has one of them zombie-pregnant at one point, setting them up more as a new species than the shambling dead. They’re appropriately menacing bad guys as far as the movie is concerned, but they don’t play off of any deeply fundamental horror like most zombies.
Still, they do cause a suitable amount of carnage. There are some spectacularly bloody deaths sprinkled throughout the first part of the movie, and by the end there’s so many of them it’s hard to keep track. My absolute favorite is by a zombie tiger named Valentine, particularly because the character she kills deserves it oh so much.
It’s one of the few moments of catharsis available in the movie’s final stretch. Here the humor, action and heist elements fall away, and we’re left with a pure zombie movie that embraces its genre wholeheartedly. While it shouldn’t be a surprise to those familiar with zombie movies, the balance from earlier makes the transition feel somewhat jarring.
Still, it’s a lot of fun getting there, which isn’t something I’ve been able to say about a Snyder movie for awhile. Clearly, this is a sandbox he should spend more time playing in.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.