“Army of the Dead” stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Tig Notaro, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt, Raúl Castillo, Omari Hardwick, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Matthias Schweighöfer. Released in theaters on May 14, 2021, followed by a Netflix release on May 21, 2021, the film has a group of mercenaries planning a heist during a zombie outbreak.
The film is directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed films such as "Dawn of the Dead", "Watchmen", "Sucker Punch", and "Man of Steel". Do you like zombies? Do you like heist films? If you answered "yes" to both of these questions, then Netflix has got the movie for you. After parting ways with Warner Brothers and its messy DC Extended Universe, visionary director Zack Snyder is returning to the genre that launched him to Hollywood stardom: a zombie film. 2004 saw him made his directorial debut with the remake of George A. Romero's 1970s classic "Dawn of the Dead", and 17 years later, he's now making another zombie film with Netflix. If that's not destiny, then I don't know what is. This film is a pretty big deal for us Netflix lovers, primarily because this is the first film from the streaming service to have a wide theatrical release. Some of the Netflix films did debut in a small number of theaters in the past, especially the award contenders. However, this is the first time the streaming service releases a film in some major theaters, not just the small ones. Let alone a $90 million budget zombie action film from the guy behind the infamous "Martha" scene in "Batman V Superman". So when I discovered that my closest cinema is showing it this weekend, I decided to take the opportunity to check it out before its Netflix debut next week. There was absolutely no way I could wait one more week to watch something that combines "Ocean's 11" with every zombie film in existence. Plus, it's been a while since I watched Snyder's visual slo-mo style on the big screen. So was this insane heist successful for me to recommend, or was it another stylistic misfire for the filmmaker? Let's find out.
The story follows Scott Ward (Bautista), a former mercenary who now works at a burger restaurant. The world was greatly affected by an outbreak that transformed the entire population of Las Vegas into flesh-eating zombies, forcing the government to place it on lockdown. One day, Scott is approached by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Sanada) about a job to retrieve $200 million from his Las Vegas casino before the military wipes out the city. He agrees and recruits multiple members of his team, including his former teammates Maria Cruz (Reguera) and Vanderohe (Hardwick), and his estranged daughter Kate (Purnell). When they enter the city, they come across a new breed of zombies known as Alphas. These zombies are no joke as they are faster, stronger, and smarter than the weaker ones. Scott and his team will have to rely on one another if they're going to complete their mission and make it out alive. When a filmmaker has a concept that sounds undeniably absurd and over-the-top on paper, they usually make it a challenge for them to have it live up to its expectations. That's pretty much the general rule of thumb regarding films that combine two different genres. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they fail. It always depends on what the audience wants out of it. Zack Snyder challenged himself to deliver a bloody and stylish zombie heist film that provides adult-rated violence, comedy, and heart, and guess what? He succeeded! Okay, well, he didn't succeed 100%, but he succeeded, and to me, that's all that matters. This film has pretty much everything you could ever want from "Army of the Dead": zombies, super-enhanced zombies, entertaining laughs, intense action, gory kills, and a zombified white tiger. You know, things that you don't want your child to see. I wish I could say the same to the parents next to me who brought theirs to see it. Seriously, what was going through their heads when they did that? One of the elements that surprised me a bit was its story. While it is technically a zombie film where most of the characters would likely become an all-you-can-eat buffet, it is also a zombie film that attempts to humanize its victims. Amid the crazy zombie outbreak storyline lies a tenderhearted father-daughter scenario involving Scott and Kate. Throughout the film, Scott tries to reconcile with Kate after an incident that resulted in them drifting apart. Even though its gore-fest often overshadows some of its emotional beats, the overall scenario had enough touching moments to make these characters worth giving a darn. I still prefer the Snyder cut of Justice League in terms of characterization, but "Army of the Dead" came very close. You hear that, Paul W. S. Anderson? That's how you make good characters in a zombie action film. I also have to give it credit for making the Alpha zombies look and feel more like an actual threat, personality-wise. The fact that they're more intelligent than ever should give the other stereotypical zombies a run for their money. The film suffered a bit from its runtime as it was close to being two and a half hours long. Once again, this might have been due to Snyder's signature scenery shots and the slo-mo sequences. Its pacing and Snyder's gorgeous cinematography managed to make me look past this issue, but to be honest, I didn't think it needed to be that long. Despite those tiny issues, the story had a surprising amount of personality to go along with its sense of fun and violence. The film also featured a diverse cast that was as entertaining as they were talented. Dave Bautista turned in a solid performance as Scott, especially during his scenes with Kate, who was portrayed effectively by Purnell. It shows how well Bautista can display his dramatic chops and perform some stunts without breaking a sweat. Even the supporting characters were delightful, especially Hardwick and Notaro as Vanderohe and Marianne Peters, respectively. Speaking of Notaro, Snyder used reshoots and CGI to replace Chris D'Elia, who was removed from the film because of the sexual misconduct accusations made against him. All I can say about that is that I can barely tell the difference. But the real showstopper in my eyes was Matthias Schweighöfer as Ludwig Dieter, the team’s safecracker. He was hysterical in almost every scene that involves him. What's even better was that his comedy didn't negatively affect the film's overall tone. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the upcoming prequel, both as an actor and a director. The visual effects were awe-inspiring to look at in terms of its sceneries, the action, Tig Notaro's placement, and the zombie designs. It's Zack Snyder doing what Zack Snyder does best, and that's by making every effects-heavy scene resemble a work of art while providing some riveting and fun action sequences in the process. In this case, it's something that I didn't mind at all. However, if you're still tired of his filmmaking style at this point, this film isn't going to change your mind about him.
Overall, "Army of the Dead" is a successful heist that gleefully combines entertaining zombie action with laughs and sentiments. This might be the most fun I had watching a Zack Snyder film. Considering his grim storytelling in his filmography, that's saying something. The filmmaker is now two for two this year thanks to the film's entertaining cast, story, visual style, and well-executed balance of humor and adult violence. This is something that Snyder seriously needed after the whole "Justice League" mishap with Warner Brothers. It might be a surefire sign that he's better off making more original content for Netflix rather than constantly getting ridiculed by Warner Brothers' meddling. It has already set the stage for a franchise that consists of the previously-mentioned prequel and an anime-style television series. Based on my experience with "Army of the Dead", I would definitely be back for more of Snyder's zombie mayhem in the future.