The Army of the Dead (2021) ☆☆(2/4): Zack Snyder back in zombieland

Zack Snyder’s new film “The Army of the Dead”, which was released on Netflix two days ago, is excessive and self-indulgent. Although you will be not disappointed at all if you simply want to see lots of zombies swiftly eliminated on the screen, the movie is often hampered by its plodding narrative and weak characterization, and I only found myself mildly entertained by some amusing elements to notice, while not paying much attention to whatever was happening on the screen.

After the predictable prologue part showing an unfortunate vehicle incident which inevitably leads to the massive zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, the first act of the movie spends some time on building up its story promise. While Las Vegas have been completely and safely sealed from the outside world for next several years, there are still thousands of zombies inside the city, so the US government eventually decides to destroy the city with a small atomic bomb, and this decision leads to lots of public controversies as shown from a TV discussion featuring a certain deplorable real-life public figure associated with Donald J. Trump.

While many people around the country are focusing on the upcoming bombing of Las Vegas, that is not much of a concern to Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a mercenary who killed lots of zombies in Las Vegas during that chaotic time as saving himself and many other people including his own daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) and some important government official. He has been fairly content with working as a diner cook while leaving behind his bloody past now, but, of course, somebody soon approaches to him for a job to do in Las Vegas, and that is a Japanese billionaire named Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). Tanaka wants Ward to assemble a special team to infiltrate into the city and then retrieve heaps of cash stored in the high-security basement safe of a certain casino building, and he promises that Ward and his team will receive enough reward for that if they successfully accomplish the mission in the end.

Despite his initial reluctance, Ward subsequently embarks on assembling the team, and we are introduced to his team members one by one. Besides two fellow mercenaries he can trust, there are also a German safecracker, a helicopter pilot, and a sharpshooter who really enjoys killing zombies, and Ward also recruits a French woman who knows a lot about how to infiltrate into Las Vegas – and how to handle a certain type of zombies which are far more dangerous than slow-walking zombies.

Around the time when Ward and his team members are about to infiltrate into Las Vegas, they happen to be accompanied with two other persons, and Ward is not so pleased about that. While he can tolerate Tanaka’s rather obnoxious right-hand guy, he objects to the participation of his daughter as a concerned father, but he possibly cannot stop her because, as a caring volunteer working in a nearby refugee camp, she is quite determined to go inside the city and then rescue a desperate mother of two kids who recently sneaked into the city for getting any money left there.

Once Ward and the other team members go inside the city, we get lots of apocalyptic sights to behold. Besides those crumbling buildings, we see lots of dried barebone bodies piled here and there, and then there come zombies as expected with some surprises. Compared to those usual slow-walking zombies, the aforementioned type of zombies is much quicker and faster in addition to having some intelligence, and we are not so surprised when it turns out later that these zombies have been led by a figure which is the very origin of the outbreak.

Later in the story, the time for their mission is shortened a lot, so Ward and his team members become much more hurried than before, and we are soon served with lots of zombie killing as expected. As those zombies keep coming, they relentlessly shoot or maim those zombies, and we accordingly get of lots of bloody and gruesome moments including the one involved with the graphic decapitation of a certain zombie figure.

However, while going all the way for excessive blood and violence, the screenplay by Snyder and his co-writers Shay Hatten and Joby Harold unfortunately slouches for more than 2 hours without generating much narrative momentum to hold our attention, and its many weak aspects become more glaring to us. Those zombies in the film may look scary at first, but they soon come to bore us a lot without much fun or horror, though I must admit that I was a bit amused by the two kinds of zombie animals in the movie. In case of the human characters in the film, they are mostly superficial cardboard figures we do not care about that much, and you can even easily guess in advance on who will be fresh meat to be served to zombies.

Anyway, the main cast members dutifully fill their respective spots as demanded. While Dave Bautista holds the center with his formidable appearance, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Matthias Schweighöfer, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, and Raúl Castillo bring some colorfulness to their archetype supporting roles, and Hiroyuki Sanada, Nora Arnezeder, Theo Rossi, and Ella Purnell acquit themselves fairly well despite their thankless roles.

In conclusion, “The Army of the Dead” is disappointing especially compared to Snyder’s previous zombie horror film “Dawn of the Dead” (2004), which has its own fun and horror enough compared to George A. Romero’s original 1978 film. The movie is not a total dud, but there are many other better zombie films out there, and I assure you that you will have a more productive time if you watch them instead of this bloated misfire.

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