Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021, Netflix) delivers a fantastic setup with a strong cast of characters and lavish sets and action, only to suck every drop of fun out of it with dumb tropes.
The film follows Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a Las Vegas local who became a legendary hero during the zombie war and who afterwards sank into obscurity. Fast forward: the war’s over, Las Vegas is quarantined, his daughter lives in a nearby quarantine camp, and Ward is a bit broken after everything he suffered to survive and save others. A casino boss hires him to break into Vegas to rob the casino he abandoned, offering $50 million for him and whatever team he assembles. After collecting his old zombie-killing comrades and recruiting other specialists, they venture into a zombie-infected Las Vegas to find the zombies have evolved. The trick is the president has authored Vegas to be nuked, and the clock is ticking.
Wow, right? They had me at Bautista, who makes a terrific understated action hero, but that’s one hell of a great setup. Like something like Adam Baker (TERMINUS, IMPACT, etc.) would cook up. The first half is actually fantastic. The problem is once the team is assembled, it all falls apart.
It’s like the filmmakers didn’t trust themselves (or their audience) to make any of it pay off, so they kitchen-sank every dumb heist and zombie movie trope they could scratch together in the hopes something would stick. You’ve got the Annoying Rebellious Daughter with Principle, Skeevy Security Guard, Tough and Mysterious Scout, Traitorous Scumbag Corporate Guy, Overplayed Unfunny Comic Relief, and so on. As well as hibernating zombies, zombie love right out of I AM LEGEND, alpha parkour zombies, king zombie, animal zombies, and from what some people are saying also robot zombies. The action in the second half is decent, there’s some fun, but mostly I was bored as the predictability of it, found the alpha zombies more annoying than menacing, and didn’t care if anybody died.
Okay, maybe I’m just a party pooper who expected too much from a zombie movie. That’s probably true. I’m just bummed because there was so much goddamn potential in this movie’s setup that I felt the way I felt watching the last season of GAME OF THRONES. They should have torn a page from Baker’s books and simply told a simple story: The team has a legendary past, the band gets back together for a heist, they go in, it goes bad, they barely get out with the clock ticking on a nuke. That’s it. No annoying daughter, no scumbag corporate guy, no skeevy security guard.
Oh, well. It’s certainly not the worst zombie movie, and it has a lot of fun elements to it to make it likeable and a passable watch. It really should have just stuck with its simple premise and core characters and made them pay off. THE DIRTY DOZEN with zombies. It could have been one of the best zombie movies ever.