The undead have been enjoying a long and steady run, if you look at the popularity of movies like World War Z and the long-running television show Walking Dead. The latest entry in this horror sub-genre is Army of the Dead, from acclaimed director Zack Snyder.
The film has been dubbed a “zombie heist” movie, think Ocean’s Eleven but minus the playful, witty banter and with a lot more nightmarish creatures trying to kill anything in sight. Oh, and they have a zombie tiger too, which is something you don’t see in your average zombie flick. The “zombie heist” description is accurate at first glance, but to say that that’s all the movie is, isn’t being fair to the movie either.
The gruesome tale takes place in Las Vegas, after a localized, mini-apocalypse. Once America’s Playground, the city is now lost to the zombie horde and walled off, trapping them inside while keeping everyone else out.
We follow the stories of a group of people who barely made it out the first time and now have to go back in. Dave Bautista, best known for playing the slow but loveable Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy series of movies, plays Scott Ward, an ex-military man reduced to flipping burgers to make ends meet. He is hired by a mysterious Japanese bigshot Hunter Bly, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who is fresh off his turn as Scorpion in the remake of Mortal Kombat.
There is a vault (This is Vegas, of course) with millions of dollars that were left behind during the zombie outbreak when the city was lost. And of course, this money needs to be rescued.
Ella Purnell plays Scott’s estranged daughter, who, despite having no combat training whatsoever, insists on coming along in search of a friend who had gone missing. This puts further strain on their already tenuous relationship, and makes the heist all the more difficult.
There is a real push to establish characters and their inter-personal dynamics in the film, to lift it up from being just another effects-ridden, undead thrill ride. The effects are there mind you, but the characters are what are meant to drive the movie. The motivations are understandable, and the characters are relatable, with Dave Bautista carefully being able to balance his physical, action-oriented side with his inner softie of a dad, and this is important as you need that emotional anchor to care whether someone becomes a light snack or makes it out alive.
Stylistically, it is unmistakably a Snyder film, with the slo-mo shots and ironic music choices. The opening montage of zombified showgirls and Elvis impersonators set to the tune of Viva Las Vegas lets you know right away that there were some thoughts put into the movie, and more than a pinch of humor. Zack Snyder donned many hats for this film, co-writing, directing and also working as the Director of Photography. His love and respect for the subject is obvious in his work, and if the living learn to love this version of the undead enough, there may just be some room for expansion in the Synder Zombieverse.