Review by Sean Boelman
Cult-favorite filmmaker Zack Snyder has finally left the realm of comic book movies to return to his horror roots, albeit with a much bigger budget. Army of the Dead benefits from a much lighter tone than a majority of Snyder’s work, but it’s also a lot dumber than anything else in his filmography.
The movie follows a group of mercenaries who venture into zombie-infested Las Vegas with the goal of pulling off a massive heist before a nuclear bomb is dropped to wipe out the remainder of the undead. And for what it is — a zombie heist movie — it’s pretty damn enjoyable, even if it doesn’t consistently deliver the goods.
As is the case with almost all of Snyder’s film, the runtime of this stretches near the two-and-a-half mark. However, in atypical fashion, the length doesn’t really add anything, with a first hour that feels overly long. Once the team gets into Vegas, it becomes legitimately fun, but the first act is all over the place.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the movie is that its emotional beats feel unearned. The story is predictable, with a croaking order defined clearly by the genre’s tropes. That said, it is unlikely viewers are going to be here for the story — they are here to see people shoot up some zombies, and there is plenty of that.
The band of misfits that makes up the crew are charming, even if they are all archetypes. After all, there’s no time for deep character development through all of the action and exposition. Still, there are a few memorable players involved, and audiences will undeniably have a favorite by the time the credits roll.
Dave Bautista’s lead performance here is genuinely strong, making one wish that the character hadn’t been so basic. In the supporting cast, highlights include Raúl Castillo, who is the undersung MVP of most films he’s in but will hopefully get his due here, and Tig Notaro, who does well in a turn that was added in post.
For better or worse, the movie doesn’t share Snyder’s signature visual palette. The film has some really strong set pieces inspired by the Vegas setting. That said, there are only a few cool action sequences (which show the potential the project could have had), with a majority of the movie being generic firefights.
Army of the Dead is a solid time, even if it doesn’t fully live up to the potential that the talent involved give it. It’s the type of mindless blockbuster that one expects to see in the summer months, though not from a name as established as Zack Snyder.
Army of the Dead hits theaters on May 14 and Netflix on May 21.