In the world of 2021’s Army of the Dead, the city of Las Vegas is a desolate, crumbling wasteland. The lively streets buzzing with nightlife, gambling, and debauchery have been replaced by delaying hotels and tombs of what was. The opening minutes of the film show routine military transport of a ‘weapon’ gone wrong. Suddenly, this vibrant metropolis falls to the knees of hungry zombies. Much like his 2004 directorial debut, Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder summarizes the world dealing with this undead crisis. This time, it’s more in line with his visual style and flair, other than a montage of news footage.
Two covers of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ plays in the background as we are introduced to members of the mercenary squad, Las Vengeance. Within all the carnage, there are some funny shots of dancers devouring showmen and a glimpse of a zombified Elvis impersonator. The government has walled off Las Vegas into his own undead sarcophagus and Las Vengeance has experienced a heartbreaking loss of a member (Snyder lends his slow-motion flair to stress the loss). Some time passes and it’s decided that a nuclear bomb will be dropped on Las Vegas to contain the zombie threat. (on the 4th of July of all days). On the outside of the blockade, there are questionable quarantine camps where families are kept.
Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), still haunted by the loss of his wife and being out the outs with his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell) has a small job as a cook at a local diner. He’s visited by billionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a proposition. Inside the city is a safe full of millions of Tanaka’s money. Bly gives Scott an offer to put his team back together, get the money out, and $20 million of it goes to him to divide amongst his Las Vengeance squad. Sounds simple, right? A well-trained brigade of tactical mercs enduring hordes of zombies to live off the rest of their lives in luxury. The meat of Army of the Dead is the mission, but there’s so much more that it wants to offer. It’s full of shaky alliances, a father/daughter reconciliation, a dangerous rescue mission, and so much more. Snyder feels at home in this element of chaotic energy.
The first part of the movie introduces you to the crew, which has the likes of Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Matthias Schweighöfer, Tig Notaro, Huma Qureshi, and more. Every part of this cast brings its own bit of flavor to make up a group that you cling to. The pairing of Hardwick as Vanderohe, a hardened soldier who begets profound sayings, and Schweighöfer as Ludwig Dieter, safecracker of German descent and the most novice fighter of the group, is a delight. Their personalities bounce off each other so well. Lily (Nora Arnezeder), known as ‘the Coyote’ in the quarantine camps, serves as our tour guide. Martin (Garret Dillahunt), Tanaka’s security detail, and his right-hand man just so happens to go on the trip to make sure things go smoothly. Everyone comes together to make for a charismatic, kick-ass, and even relatable faction.
These aren’t your conventional zombies, either. They are fast and tenacious, but hide an even bigger threat. While an examinate tiger is roaming the streets, Alphas, as they are called, reign supreme. Alphas keep a certain amount of intelligence, strength, and command the horde. All of this adds an extra layer of urgency and danger – not forgetting there’s a time limit. Army contains a lot of what zombie movies fans love. Granted that it takes place in broad daylight, but the character designs of the zombie themselves hold their own. Suspenseful moments happen where the group has to move through darkened remains of buildings through a plethora of undead will create some anxiety. Snyder has a way of shrinking places to view the important conversations using aperture and lens flare.
Plenty of gore and bullets are here to satisfy the appetite of the zombie faithful. Characters die in very graphic fashion and because you get to know them, their deaths aren’t in vain. Whether it be Notaro’s quick humor as helicopter pilot Marianne Peters or Scott’s urge to make things right with Kate. Everybody has their own reason for going into Las Vegas. You’ll either root for their success or wish against it. It’s hard to make a movie with these many characters and give each a standout moment. Snyder takes that challenge head-on and is successful, mostly.
Now, Army of the Dead runs slightly under a two-hour and a half runtime. Perhaps it could have been edited down a little to make the impact of the emotional scenes even more important. With a reported prequel and anime series in this universe on the way, more can be touched on about the quarantine camps. There’s a character within the film that serves as a mini-antagonist to Kate’s altruistic heart working for the World Health Organization. Maybe more of these dynamics and how the camps came to be will be expounded upon in the future.
Most of all, this movie is a lot of fun to watch. Usually, people go into zombie movies for one aspect. The deaths. Well, Army gives you this. Nobody is truly safe given how these zombies have developed. You’ll cling to the characterization, and while some scenarios may seem familiar from other films, the environment and acting bring a freshness to them.
Photo Credit: Netflix