Zack Snyder is having a good year. After releasing the uber long and uber Snydery director’s cut of Justice League on HBO Max earlier this year, it seems the public has finally accepted, for better or worse, that this divisive director is here to stay. Before the mythologized Snyder Cut was announced to actually be a thing that was going to happen, the discussion around Snyder’s string of DC movies throughout the past decade typically skewed toward either a really niche love for his work or a resounding loathing of what he brought to the cinematic table. However, in this post Snyder Cut reality, the mainstream narrative behind Snyder seems to have suddenly shifted to a new balance of either having an adoration for his work or an amiable “eh, not for me, but I can respect it” attitude toward his style.
Personally, I’m on the latter end of that spectrum. As a comic book connoisseur myself, his adaptation of the DC Universe has never appealed to me in the same way Nolan’s Batman or the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, but I’ve always had a general respect for Snyder. Watch just about any interview where he talks about the DC Universe and its characters and it’s clear as day he has a deep, infectious love for this stuff. Whether the majority of audiences are on board with his vision or not, Snyder shows up to unapologetically do Snyder things. And while I can’t say I have much of a taste for his dreary, hyper masculine take on superheroes that always seems to think its conveying something deeper than what’s actually being presented, I’ve typically held the opinion that Snyder is a director who’s simply been playing in the wrong genre sandbox.
2004’s remake of Dawn of the Dead was Snyder’s directorial debut, and it was hands down his best work. With a script by James Gunn and George A. Romero that had little more on its mind than a horror-filled good time, Snyder was free to play to his strengths by delivering a blood-splattered visual feast for the eyes. Rather than clashing his trademark slo-mo visual flair with character driven and thematically dense material like Watchmen, Snyder’s propensity for action-packed style over substance felt right at home with Dawn of the Dead. This was a lane Snyder was born to go full throttle in. Which is why when Army of the Dead was announced to bring him back into the directing chair of a balls-to-the-walls zombie flick, I suddenly found myself more excited than ever for an upcoming movie directed by Zack Snyder.
If you have any interest in the zombie sub-genre, the premise of Army of the Dead alone is probably enough to sell you. It’s heist excursion meets zombie movie as a team of (mostly) bad-ass mercenaries are sent in to a quarantined and zombie-infected Las Vegas to retrieve an ungodly amount of money from a vault before the entire city is nuked and obliterated for good. In terms of delivering on this general premise, Army hits the mark perfectly and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to shelling out absurdist, action-filled zombie mayhem in glorious spades.
Dave Bautista takes front and center in this one, and while the actor of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy fame does have a natural likability about him, he comes off as less suited to handle the more emotionally heavy moments required here. Bautista may simply be better equipped for straight-forward supporting rolls, or as his brief stint in Blade Runner 2049 may have alluded, a director that can really play to his strengths. There’s no particular standouts among supporting cast, and no real duds either. But that’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme. This is an action movie through and through, and what Army really succeeds at is making each of what could have been an overcrowded cast of characters stand out in their own small ways just enough to get the audience on board to see them through this rapid-fire adventure.
That said, Army‘s greatest weaknesses is in its script – specifically the dialogue. Zombie and heist flicks are usually made to hit distinct genre marks, and the addition of those familiar broad strokes mostly work in Army‘s favor, but what are supposed to be the most emotionally hitting scenes between its characters wind up falling flat with some seriously derivative and overused dialogue. And this is what keeps Army just short of reaching the same heights as Dawn – Snyder’s the lead writer behind Army while Dawn benefitted from the more unique ingenuity of Gunn and Romero behind the pen.
Still, when it comes to zombie anarchy to the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, Army dispenses one adrenaline fueled action sequence after another, making up for any pitfalls in between. Though an argument for a more brisk runtime may be hard to dispute, the fun never really hits a hard lull, keeping you buckled in all the way through to its wonderfully over the top climax. And while the movie doesn’t completely break new ground within the zombie genre, it does throw in a few fresh new ideas to keep even the most seasoned undead enthusiasts on their toes – I mean come on, you gotta respect a zombie tiger.
Army of the Dead is available to stream now on Netflix. Check it out if you didn’t quite get your fill of little zombie babies from Dawn of the Dead, feel like seeing an alpha zombie trotting around on his little zombie horse or ever wished Shades from Luke Cage was portrayed more like a one-dimensional d-bag.