Review: Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead is big, dumb and… good?

The DC auteur returns to the zombie genre after almost two decades, but it's Dave Bautista's performance that really pulls this movie together


ARMY OF THE DEAD (Zack Snyder). 147 minutes. Available to stream Friday (May 21) on Netflix Canada. Rating: NNN


Two decades after his high-octane remake of Dawn Of The Dead – which, by the way, is still his best movie – Zack Snyder returns to the genre that launched him with a bigger, more expensive vision. And though Army Of The Dead doesn’t have the same clarity or power as its predecessor, it’s still enjoyable for what it is: a big, noisy heap of carnage determined to mash every button on the zombie checklist, and then mash them again.

A while after a zombie outbreak turns Las Vegas into a hot zone filled with the ravenous dead – the U.S. government having walled it off and quarantined the human survivors into displacement camps – disgraced military hotshot Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is hired by a shady magnate (Hiroyuki Sanada) to assemble a team and extract $200 million in abandoned cash out of a casino vault.

Vegas is scheduled to be nuked in a few days, so there’s a ticking clock; there’s also the fact that Scott’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who works in the displaced-persons camp, insists on joining him to find a friend who snuck into Vegas and never came back out.

And we’re off, following the basic structure of James Cameron’s Aliens, adjusted for furious zombies instead of ravenous xenomorphs – but 35 years on, Aliens is still a perfect story engine, so why the hell not? I don’t think anyone would object to my pointing out Snyder isn’t an original thinker; Dawn Of The Dead, 300 and Watchmen all sprung from existing work, and of course his DC movies drew upon decades of storylines and established characters. (Those movies didn’t understand them all that well, but that’s not important right now.)

Anyway, whatever works. And for long stretches, Army Of The Dead works. Abandoning the super-seriousness that weighed down those superhero pictures, Snyder – who co-wrote the film and also acts as his own cinematographer this time around – attacks the material with what can only be described as hammerhead enthusiasm, plunging gleefully into spectacular depictions of human-on-zombie violence while also throwing in elements of Romero’s Land Of The Dead, Marc Forster’s World War Z and Yeon Sang-ho’s Train To Busan films. There’s also a zombie in a helmet and cape – because he watched 300 when he was alive, I guess.

And for those of you who were wondering… no, this isn’t set in the same universe as Dawn, though Snyder does reference that movie here and there: the progress of the zombie infection is the same, for example, and he’s still infatuated with the idea of zombies having babies. (Why, I do not know. But he totally is.)

Did it need to be two and a half hours long? Not really, but the Vegas setting both invites and excuses such excess, especially since that means more time to appreciate how nuanced an actor Dave Bautista has become in recent years. Even as Snyder turns everything around him into meaningless, pulsating mush, Bautista makes sure Scott’s relationship with Kate remains the picture’s true north. Also, Tig Notaro is there for cranky comic relief, and she’s so well-integrated into the action that you’d never know she shot her entire role after production had wrapped.

So, yeah. Get a big bowl of party mix, turn the sound way up and enjoy the pulp pleasures of Army Of The Dead without shame. If you’re still reading this, you know you want to.

@normwilner

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