The writing in director Zack Snyder’s movies, especially when he insists on doing it himself, is more lifeless than any zombie he’s ever put on screen. But even with two additional writers on board this time around, his long-awaited return to roots, Army of the Dead, is a high-strung film in which the filmmaker struggles even on the visual front, which is rare.
Shot by Snyder himself, the film uses a similar visual aesthetic to that Batman-Joker epilogue in his recently released Justice League director’s cut. Aside from the sweeping CGI shots of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, Army of the Dead has an almost entirely handheld vibe; filmed with custom lenses that basically reduce the depth of field to a few centimeters.
Watch an interview with Zack Snyder here
It gives the movie a unique look that takes some getting used to, and arguably robs of scale in some scenes too. You can feel Snyder getting a little carried away after the initial camera tests. After a rather shallow pre-credits streak, Army of the Dead is jumping into old-school Snyder territory so joyfully that I can imagine long-starved fans of its original films decide to spend an extra hour in the gym. bring to celebrate.
The opening score, scored on a comic cover of Viva Las Vegas, captures the backstory and contextualizes the rules of the post-apocalyptic world in which the film is set – similar to the opening scene of Zombieland. Snyder, who designed arguably one of the most beautiful end credits series in recent memory with Watchmen, is at his most visually flamboyant in those five minutes. It’s almost as if he is actively rebelling against the creative prison he spent the last decade of his career in.
He has finally been disconnected from Netflix. But if you thought the four-hour Snyder Cut was an exercise in self-indulgent excess, wait until you have a load of the blown-up mess that is Army of the Dead.
Scott Ward, a mercenary played by Dave Bautista, is approached by Hiroyuki Sanada’s seedy Japanese businessman with a tempting plan. In the quarantined city of Las Vegas, where the zombie outbreak has apparently been contained, lies $ 200 million in unattended cash. If Scott is able to retrieve it, he will get a healthy chunk and assure himself and his daughter of a bright future.
A few musical montages later, Scott gathers his team, which includes a hermit cracker, an ax-wielding maniac, a devious coyote and, for some odd reason, his teenage child too. I suspect it wasn’t ideal to give the film’s protagonist purely capitalist motivations, which is why Snyder also attributes a human element to the mission.
Our own Huma Qureshi has been reduced to a MacGuffin in Army of the Dead. She plays Geeta, a woman who finds herself in the quarantine zone and has to be picked up by the crew, almost like a bag of money herself. Not only does this make her a damsel in need, it also makes Scott’s daughter Kate a white savior.
The film could have benefited immensely from a tighter editing – themes Snyder tries to touch on, such as the refugee crisis, American capitalism and the Trump years, would certainly have surfaced. But instead, he structures the movie like a video game, splitting the gang up as Scooby Doo characters and sending them on individual missions. Unlike the best heist movies, neither their skills nor their cultural background play a big role in the story.
For example, it is briefly established that Matthias Schweighöfer’s sissy safe cracker Deiter is arguably the most valuable member of the crew, and should be protected at all costs. But he can manage just fine on his own. What’s more dramatic: Deiter suddenly turns into a bada ** because the plot requires him to do that, or the crew compromises on his own safety by trying to keep him safe?
Army of the Dead is also undone by an unwaveringly stiff tone – Snyder takes no pleasure in the idea that unlike the undead created by George A Romero decades ago, the zombies in this movie are capable of mobilization and strategy. They have a king and a queen and seem to have formed some kind of society. Instead, this is the kind of movie where when one character finds another alive, he says, “I found you, you’re alive.”