Zack Snyders Army of the Dead arrives with relatively few expectations.
There is something very refreshing and very appealing about that, especially given that Snyder has become a cultural focal point because of his work on films man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justicenot to mention everything related to the production and release (and subsequent restoration) of Justice League. With all of that in the rearview mirror, it’s exciting to sit down and watch a movie by Zack Snyder who … just a Zack Snyder movie.
Indeed, Army of the Dead is arguably a step backwards for the director and marks a return to his earliest work. As a hyper-violent zombie action film with a satirical touch, Army of the Dead invites you to compare it with his first feature film, his remake by George A. Romero Dawn of the Dead. However, Army of the Dead is not a belated sequel or sequel. It’s that rare, large-budget modern genre film that’s as self-contained as a high-concept zombie movie can get.
Army of the Dead is by no means a masterpiece. It’s a little forgiving and overly long, and suffers from the familiar speed and sound issues that affect many Netflix-produced films. However, Army of the Dead is a fun and interesting genre when viewed on its own terms. More than anything else, freed from the constraints of established properties and common universes and the subsequent test, Army of the Dead feels like Snyder is actually having fun. It’s hard to indulge in that.
Army of the Dead is based on a number of high-level concepts. Most obvious is the collision of a zombie apocalypse movie with a heist thriller. The film is set in a world where an Area 51 zombie outbreak has swept through Las Vegas, but the United States government managed to contain it. Las Vegas is shielded from the world. The threat from the creatures is persistent but not existential. Not this Crazy Max or Book Eli. It is not even The story of the maid.
There’s something strangely convincing in this setup that haunts the movie even if it’s never been fully explored. Army of the Dead imagines a world that has managed to survive the apocalypse. The kind of catastrophic event that signals the end of humanity in most of the narratives has hit the world, but humanity endures. Society did not collapse. Business continued as usual. The veterans of the Campaign to Secure Las Vegas are now working as roast cooks on the outskirts of the state. The dispossessed were driven to camps where they could quickly be forgotten.
This is perhaps the central dark joke of the Army of the Deadand the one who resonates most strongly with the current moment. At long last, Army of the Dead arrives in a world that is arguably going through multiple simultaneous apocalypses just to insist that business must continue as normal: an unprecedented global pandemic, the possibility that climate change is past the point of no return is, and the breakdown of democratic structures is a resurrected fascism.
Army of the Dead unfolds in a zombie world where the structures of late capitalism are robust enough to withstand something seemingly unimaginable, and life somehow endures in the face of the impossible. Army of the Dead Illustrates the absurdity of satire in the modern world as many of its absurd plot points feel worryingly believable in the context of the past half decade, such as an unnamed President of the United States planning a nuclear strike in Las Vegas “Coinciding with sunset on July, the fourth holiday” that would “Really cool and the ultimate fireworks show” and “Actually a bit patriotic if you think about it.”
It’s fascinating, bizarre, and ultimately, terrible Army of the Dead is a zombie satire that doesn’t feel as fancy as it did a decade ago. It is difficult to analyze part of the film to determine how the film is supposed to read certain elements. Sean Spicer borrows from Snyder’s fascination with the heightened surreality of the American pandemic and even has a little cameo as a speaker debating the strange state of this alternate world. It’s horrible to see at times Army of the Dead normalize and even rehabilitate someone associated with this administration, but oddly enough, it is also appropriate to see this in this genre.
Army of the Dead comes across a horror version of the challenge comedians faced in the post-Trump era, whether the real world exists in a state beyond parody or nightmare. As you’d expect in the zombie genre, Snyder bakes in a healthy, heightened social commentary. This comment is kind of more disturbing because it doesn’t seem absurd. The idea of classifying people as subhuman to perceived “Willingness to fight and actions outside of social norms” based on temperature controls in lawless detention camps doesn’t seem too far from where the United States was – and still is.
Even so, all of these background details are largely random. It’s an interesting texture, but it’s not the focus. As in Dawn of the DeadSnyder is not particularly invested in broad social satire on the state of the modern world. Instead, it largely exists as context. In keeping with this notion of a world that survived the apocalypse and the reality in which late capitalism shuffles, Army of the Dead finds a group of mercenaries hired by an eccentric Japanese billionaire to free a large amount of money from a vault in the city. It’s an absurdly risky mission, but money still means enough that it’s impossible to refuse.
Army of the Dead is built around recognizable Snyder tropics. The “Recruiting a Team for a Dangerous Mission” Structure is reminiscent of Snyder’s declared predilection for classic films such as Seven samuraiwho shaped and informed his approach Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The opening sequence of the film is a stylized and stylish highlight, a confident exercise in narrative economy that is reminiscent of the similar sequence in Guardian. There is of course free slow motion. Even the last minute inclusion of Tig Notaro in the film is reminiscent of Snyder’s ability to sew together Zack Snyder’s Justice League of the scraps that are left to him.
That said Army of the Dead marks, in a way, a clear departure from Snyder. Most importantly, it’s a far more colorful film than many of his recent endeavors, avoiding the desaturated and sepia-toned color palette that has largely dominated his work since then 300. Snyder works on as his own cameraman Army of the Deadalthough he does make sure to pay a loving and fair tribute to longtime associate and old college buddy Larry Fong.
Still there are aspects of Army of the Dead that speaks directly to Snyder as a filmmaker, with a strong feeling that Snyder is concerned with his own reputation and the public’s perception of him. Certain Army of the Dead plays with the recurring reading of Snyder as an objectivist – a reading largely based on his avowed desire to conform The well headbut also not entirely supported by his tendency to make films about how harshly lenders have to recognize that they owe the world (and each other) something. For what it’s worth, Snyder moved away from his customization plans The well head in the past few years.
It is crucial Army of the Dead works much like many of Snyder’s films – in particular Batman versus Superman and Justice League. It’s a story about characters who begin their journey believing that they owe nothing to the world and that something is owed to them. The leader Scott Ward accuses his old friend Maria Cruz of the daring attack and asks: “What if we – just once – did something just for ourselves?” After all, this is the starting point for most of the robbery films: What if these characters deserved something because they were adept enough to take it?
The inevitable arch of this film – just like the inevitable arches of Batman versus Superman and Justice League – pushes back against it. The characters inevitably learn that selfishness may not be enough and that building a whole team around selfishness can be disastrous. Army of the Dead is very structured with the understanding that this is massive folly. Ward and Cruz are both personable characters, and the audience understands why they feel owed, but the film repeatedly underscores the idea that such bare self-interest will lead to dire consequences.
In this sense, Army of the Dead feels a lot like one of those subversive action blockbusters from the Reagan era. The casting of Dave Bautista makes a big contribution to the heavyweight here. Bautista’s physicality is reminiscent of the action heroes of the decade such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers and many more. As Ward casts, Bautista is a stark contrast to the thinner and conventionally proportioned leading cast who tend to anchor modern action films. Even with their absurdly muscular bodies, they have considerably less mass.
Army of the Dead feels like a distant cousin of movies like RoboCop or Predator this way that fits for a zombie movie like this one. Indeed, Army of the Dead feels closer to Romero’s original work in this genre than Snyder’s Dawn of the Deadbecause of that big, broad, cynical and black-weird aesthetic. However, Army of the Dead relates most strongly to James Camerons AliensI often feel like a direct homage to one of the great blockbusters of the eighties.
Army of the Dead takes off several strokes of action directly Aliens. The danger of a nuclear strike on the city makes a clock ticking. The climax becomes a race against time to rescue a lost child from a monstrous fortress. The mercenary team is accompanied by a mysterious corporate man named Martin who may have his own ulterior motive for venturing into zombie territory and who talks about the zombies as the zombies “Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction” and the commercial potential of the “Power to form your own zombie army.” Even a climate strike with an air rescue is taken over directly by Aliens.
To be fair Army of the Dead owns this comparison. It even quotes straight from it Aliens, with people smuggler Lilly, who even notices the zombies, “You don’t see them surprise each other.” That is understandable. At long last, Aliens is a classic. Its robust plot makes up a large part of its appeal, with a narrative where pretty much every piece fits together. It makes sense to apply this template to a related genre, especially in the context of an obvious homage to blockbusters from the eighties.
At the same time, the similarities are somewhat distracting. At long last, Aliens is one of the best blockbusters ever made, so it is not flattering to invite such comparisons Army of the Dead. That’s not necessarily a blow Army of the Dead. Very few motifs would be flattered by a comparison with Aliens. The harshness of these references ultimately undermines Army of the Deadand distracts from what the film does well.
In the sense that Army of the Dead is closer in tone and spirit to the work of George A. Romero than Dawn of the DeadIt is noteworthy that Snyder goes back to one of the main inspirations for Romero’s creation of the zombie genre. Romero admitted that he had taken much of the advice from Richard Matheson I am Legend in the making The night of the living deadand just replaced Matheson’s vampires with a new breed of monster. It’s interesting that later adaptations of Matheson’s book were kept away from vampires as well, opting for more conventional mutants The omega man and zombies in I am Legend.
While Matheson’s book is, however enormously It’s also noteworthy that the novel’s great twist never really got through the page-to-screen translation. Matheson’s book arguably paved the way for later stories like Westworld, Ex machina and The girl with all the presents in so far it indicated that these monsters were not only enemies of mankind, but potential successors and replacements. One of the big twists I am Legend is the realization that these perverse monstrosities have actually built a civilization and are capable of love.
Army of the Dead touches this idea quite strongly. Lilly is the member of the team with the most experience in dealing with the zombies. She found a way to communicate with them while smuggling people into and out of the quarantine zone. “This city is not their prison, it is their kingdom.” Lilly warns her fellow travelers. “They are not what you think they are.” Lilly has devised a system of bartering and trading in the creatures, and they seem to largely understand and respect the rules.
There is an interesting ambivalence Army of the Deadwhich is reminiscent of Snyder’s work with the Spartans in 300. Observe the character scheme and the plot Army of the DeadThe film seems to be asking if humanity really has any moral superiority over this emerging species. The zombies in Army of the Dead seem able to think and trust, maybe even love. Indeed, one of the most important acts is taking place Army of the Dead is a direct and intentional reversal of one of the most terrifying sequences in Snyders Dawn of the Dead.
To be fair, most of this is implied as well as explored, but it’s still a fascinating way to approach the archetypal zombie movie. At long last, Army of the Dead suggests a world that survived the apocalypse and has become a zombie version of itself, a lifeless, consuming shell. While it’s too much to point out that Snyder humanizes the zombies at the heart of the film, an appealing cynicism plays a role. Sometimes, Army of the Dead seems to invite the audience to wonder what humanity did to deserve survival or continuation, and whether humanity ultimately chose to inflict these nightmares on itself.
Still, Army of the Dead is not wholly and unreservedly cynical. There is something strangely personal and intimate about Snyder’s decision to build something Army of the Dead about the emotional arc of Ward’s attempts to reunite with his estranged daughter, Kate. It is very difficult not to read the film’s emotional emphasis on this relationship since so much of Snyder’s public figure has been shaped by the tragic loss of his own daughter, so wandering a father and daughter through a city of the dead carries surprising emotional ones Force. It helps that Bautista is very emotionally convincing in the lead role and anchors the film.
Again, there are some interesting points in the details of the dynamics between Scott and Kate Ward. The father and daughter are estranged, and Scott has always believed this was due to his murder of Kate’s mother when she became infected. This would be a very clichéd punch in a movie like this, an absent father who lost both his wife and daughter to his job that was done for the general good. Cleverly, Army of the Dead undermines and deconstructs this. Kate makes it clear that she never blamed him for what he had to do, but rather for his inability and unwillingness to engage emotionally with her.
This is a surprisingly effective emotional arc that takes a very clichéd core concept and shades it with enough nuances to add a bit of depth. Army of the Dead will never be confused with a prestige character drama, but this emotional arc is so complex that it doesn’t feel fully recycled or clichéd. The emotional honesty in the dynamic between Scott and Kate Ward also helps keep the movie’s cynicism from suffocating emotionally.
That said, there are problems with Army of the Dead. The film has a fascinating opening act as it establishes the world and brings the team together. It also has a strong action-driven climax in act three, with enough emotional weight to keep the audience on board and enough style to please even those tired of zombies. However, the film wanders and meanders in the second act and often loses momentum. There are an expansive line of characters at the hotel in the middle of a zombie infested city that feels surprisingly light when under tension.
There is also a little problem with the sound. Army of the Dead is black weird. It never takes itself too seriously. However, the film occasionally struggles to find the right balance between darkly funny and just mean. The problem is compounded by Snyder’s reliance on something obvious needle drops. The climatic montage of the film is set for a remix of the cranberries. zombiewhich is just a bit too on the nose for a movie like this.
Still, Snyder is having fun. Army of the Dead is a zombie movie that’s an action movie throwback from the eighties that finds time for elements like zombie horses and “A damn zombie tiger.” This sensitivity is contagious.