Army of the Dead CPE
Army of the Dead – 2021

Director Zack Snyder
Screenplay Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Joby Harold
Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt

My favorite zombie movie and still my favorite Zack Snyder film is 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake. It’s humor, humility and bombast allowed Snyder to fully engage with a remarkable cast. The result is a very scary and very human take on the first days of a horrific apocalypse. Since then, I have waited for each subsequent effort to match, much less raise the stakes. 300 pushed him into superstar status, The Watchmen pushed him into the D.C. Universe. The rest is history, for better or worse.

Through it all, Snyder has kept his sense of extraordinary style while trying to mine humor out of some pretty tight spots. His recent completion of the long-awaited 4 hour cut of the Justice League film dovetailed nicely with this film, which has been in and out of development hell since 2007. This film, filming since 2019 and then reshot in 2020 with the incredible Tig Notaro replacing the alleged sex-offender Chris D’Elia, brings Snyder back to his comfort zone of absurdist treatment of the zombie theme.

The story involves humble army hero Scott Ward (Bautista) who is brought back to the place where he made his name, Las Vegas, after it has been overrun by zombified humans that were created when an army package is unleashed in an accident while in transit just outside of the town. Ward lost his wife during the initial outbreak, and has lost communication with his daughter (Purnell) since. He is enticed by billionaire Tanaka (Sanada) to break into a massive vault in the bottom of one of the casinos and steal its contents. If you think that is all there is to it, then you’ve never seen a movie before.

The characters in Army of the Dead are thin, for the most part. Some of them, Hardwick’s strongman Vanderohe, Schweighöfer’s safecracker Dieter and especially Notaro’s pilot Peters are remarkably well acted, to the point where it feels like the film suffers whenever they are not onscreen. Notaro especially is worth the price of admission, with her wry comedic observations wafting through the heavy air like a wisdom to which the rest of us are not privy.

The premise of the dead this time is that some are possessing of an ability that puts them on par with the rest of us thinking folk. The two types allow the crew to slaughter large groups indiscriminately at some times and then at others work a little bit harder to try to survive.

Snyder’s effects are delightful as usual. His ability to put comic touches on absurd gore is almost unparalleled. Prime examples here include the zombified remains of one of Siegfried and Roy’s white tigers named Valentine, resting casually as a cat might as a group of the zombies swarm after their targets.

Those who have seen Dawn of the Dead know most of the beats that this film will follow. Bautista has some great charisma, but his acting skill is such that it pays to have an interesting supporting cast. There are not as many of those as one would hope here, but overall, the film does not stop entertaining.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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