So we’re in agreement that Zack Snyder should just stick to zombie flicks, yeah? Because it’s where the man really shines, and for the first time in 17 years he’s come home to give us a truly wonderful and nasty little flick.
Army of the Dead is a heist film, through-and-through. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is flipping burgers after saving many from the zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is approached by former casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to assemble a team, hoping to recover $200m from the vault in his former casino. After recruiting warrior/philosopher Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), mechanic Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), and Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), the grew follows a Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) into the depths of this new world, racing to escape before a nuclear bomb is dropped to wipe the zombies out. Along for the ride is Ward’s humanitarian daughter, Kelly (Ella Purnell), who hopes to find a lost friend and return the woman to her children.
It’s no real surprise that I’m not a huge fan of Zack Snyder, but credit has to be given where it’s due. While his first film of 2021 wasn’t completely my cup of tea, I’m sort of floored that he can create a high-budget schlockfest that includes everything from road-head to headshots, everything coherent and competent enough to be wildly entertaining.This is the kind of film I longed for when it comes to Snyder; a gore-filled visual parade that’s held up by a mixture of heart and humor. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Dave Bautista is more than muscle, instead carrying a lot of organic pathos that sits between loneliness and redemption. His character, Scott Ward, spends the film doing things to reconnect with his daughter and there’s no word for it other than “cute.” These moments are what keep the film from becoming a zombie-filled version of 300.
I’ll come right out and say that I think this is Snyder’s second-best film. His first, Dawn of the Dead, showcases a lot of his visual strengths while requiring very little of his quiet sweetness. Nothing in his catalog would indicate that he’s more of an adorable lunkhead than an aggro-bro, but statements he’s made about Reichardt’s First Cow and his genuine love of his actors gave me a bit more to chew on than any previous film ever did. His visual panache isn’t gone, but the aggressive switch between slo-mo and hyperspeed has been traded out for bright colors and extreme viscera. It’s a welcome switch, especially with all of the lovingly crafted characters to balance out his violent tendencies. Truly tender moments don’t exist in the plethora of ultra-violence and intestines that usually fly all over a Snyder screen, so it’s a welcome change to actually care about anyone in his films.
Sometimes a director finds a musical soulmate — Aronofsky and Mansell, Nolan and Zimmer, Shyamalan and Howard. Zack Snyder has found his own vivacious lover in Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL). I first came to know the man with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, a thrilling but uneventful score that sounds like a deadlifter’s gym playlist. Working with Snyder has given him thundering alto guitar rhythms and brutal fight-scenes to musically choreograph, but here we get something more frightening. It sounds like a horror score, but mixed with Snyder’s love of on-the-nose needle drops it works.
Army of the Dead isn’t really anything brilliant, but it’s a lot of fun and remains blissfully unaware of itself. Whether rolling their eyes at Deiter’s Chelsea boots (his footware of choice to run into a zombie wasteland) or discussing intelligent “Alpha zombies,” the entire cast is as devoted to making this work as the director. It’s silly fare, but the emotional beats land with precision in a way I’ve genuinely never seen from this guy before. I’m overjoyed that I can be excited about a Snyder movie, and I hope he sticks with this mixture of excess and restraint.
Army of the Dead is currently streaming on Netflix and is available in theatres.