I never thought I’d see the day where I wanted to turn off a zombie action movie halfway through watching it. Even mediocre or badly made zombie flicks will still keep me pretty entertained because there’s something about fighting the undead that makes for a fun viewing experience, regardless who makes them. Well it turns out you can make a cringeworthy zombie action movie – with a Hollywood-sized budget – that you’ll want to turn off and that movie is Army of the Dead.
A story about a group of mercenaries trying to pull off a heist in Las Vegas after the city is taken over by a zombie outbreak should be a slam dunk because it’s such a great premise. But a bloated nonsensical plot with unlikable characters, laughable zombie performances, embarrassingly mediocre CGI, and a stupidly long runtime made this the first zombie movie I’ve ever wanted to hit stop on the remote.
After an accident involving an inept military convoy unleashes a zombie apocalypse upon Las Vegas, the city of sin becomes quarantined and scheduled for complete destruction. Before the government blows up his casino in the planned tactical nuclear strike, casino magnate Bly Tanaka (Hirohuki Sanada) hires former mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to put together a team to enter the zombie infested city and recover $200 million from his casino vault.
After assembling his team consisting of his former mercenary teammates Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) as well as helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), the safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), sharpshooter Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo) and his associate Chambers (Samantha Win), Scott Ward seeks help from his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who works as a volunteer at the quarantine camp, as a way of entering the city. Kate introduces the team to Lily, AKA “The Coyote” (Nora Arnezeder), who plans to smuggle them into the city and provide knowledge about zombie societal nuances that will help them survive.
Unfortunately, Kate’s friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi) has gone missing inside Las Vegas and, despite having no combat experience or knowledge of the city or any level of usefulness, Kate insists that she tag along. Surprise surprise. To make matters worse, Tanaka’s associate Martin (Garret Dillahunt) is carrying out his own objectives that puts the team at increased risk. And when they learn that the amount of time they had to complete the heist has been greatly reduced, well it’s going to take everything this team can muster if they are going to get out of Las Vegas alive.
As long as nobody without any combat experience decides to run off against their dad’s instructions, without telling anyone, into the zombie-infested city to save their friend, then everything should go to plan. Sigh.
While I appreciate Army of the Dead is a mish-mash genre film (so nobody is gunning for an Oscar), I still found the acting to be one of the major letdowns of this film. Dave Bautista and Ana de la Reguera manage to give pretty decent performances despite the ridiculously dumb story. They bring to life characters you’re rooting for and give what is best described as the film’s only plausible elements. As far as believability in a film such as this, I believed these characters could exist in this world. The same however cannot be said for the rest of the cast.
Just about everybody else in this team of *cough* mercenaries, is nothing but a big joke. It’s almost like the dialogue and directing for Bautista and Reguera was set to ‘serious’ and then for everyone else it was set to ‘this is a big joke’ or ‘artistically wanky’. I couldn’t take any of them seriously (some don’t even take themselves seriously, I’d bet) and when put in the same scene as Bautista and Reguera, it’s apparent how nothing gels and feels like two different writer/directors made this at the same time and tried to edit it all together.
Director Zack Snyder, who also co-wrote this woeful screenplay, has done a Peter Jackson with Army of the Dead. What I mean by that is that he’s taken a story that could have easily been told in a breezy 90 minutes and stretched it out to an indulgent, bloated 148 minutes of scenes that seriously need trimmed or removed altogether because they don’t really add anything substantial to the story. Once again, Snyder shows he’s a filmmaker that really needs an editor to cut back all the fat.
On top of this, Snyder does a serious injustice with his lead actor by not having the story focus enough on Bautista’s Scott Ward. I mean, this is the leader of the group and gets the dramatic moments with his estranged daughter and is the one you’re rooting for. So much time is spent on side characters – who, let’s be honest, are there to provide skills to get the main characters to their destination and essentially provide a body count – that you almost forget Dave Bautista is the star.
That’s the central drive of the film but we just get moment after moment of shallow interactions between nothing characters and embarrassing attempts at comedy. Given that Bautista gives a solid performance it’s just painful to watch all these sub-par characters get so much screen time.
To add insult to injury, the zombies aren’t even that great. In addition to what I can only dub as “art student” performances from the zombies that are embarrassing to watch, Snyder has tried to develop some kind of zombie society and complicated a pretty simple idea. There are definite moments where the zombies feel like a rip off of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. It makes for such a laughable and cringeworthy spectacle that I couldn’t enjoy the monsters, even when they were being capped off by our heroes.
But the most surprising letdown for me – given this is a Zack Snyder film – are the production values. I don’t know what they did with that budget (especially since they don’t have a slate of A-listers in the cast eating it up), but not enough of it went to the special effects. To say the CGI is sub-par for a 2021 film is an understatement. It looks like a video game from 10 years ago.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news about this film, you might have heard they had to digitally insert Tig Notaro to replace Chris D’Elia and it’s noticeable. Like “they got the intern to do the job” noticeable.
Army of the Dead is a bloated, messy movie that seriously disappoints. It’s a classic example of what happens when tons of money is thrown at a garbage script and an artist’s creative ability is diminished because of the ample resources available to them. With mostly unlikable and unbelievable characters who make stupid decisions that render the conflict forced and unnatural, coupled with sub-par CGI, cringworthy zombie characters and a story that barely focuses on the supposed main character, this is a zombie movie that should’ve stayed dead.