Over the course of the last decade, Zack Snyder has made a name for himself in cinema. His numerous takes on the characters of DC Comics, although controversial among fans, have proved to be a huge success, propelling his name throughout the world. Although, Zack Snyder’s first major breakthrough was the 2004 remake of the horror classic Dawn of the Dead. Now 17 years later, Snyder returns to his roots with Army of the Dead, and it truly seems like he may be in the purest form of his element.
Army of the Dead takes place in a world where society has managed to contain the would-be zombie apocalypse. The U.S. government has managed to isolate the outbreak at ground zero, Las Vegas, and is on the eve of nuking the zone to completely wipe out the infected population. Mere hours before the nuke is set to launch, mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is sent on a mission to find a vault filled with tens of millions of dollars deep inside what used to be a luxury Vegas hotel. Scott and his team of survivors become locked in a battle of life or death against the zombie hoard, which has evolved and become just as smart as the people they’re fighting.
Army of the Dead excels in everything it’s trying to do. It very much takes the concept of a heist and effectively centers it right in the realms of the undead. The pivotal heist is never too distracting, allowing the film to easily sway back to being a classic zombie flick. Snyder perfectly combines two sub-genres in a way that creates a truly engaging story that viewers will connect to almost immediately. This is, of course, thanks to another recognizable, yet incredible opening title sequence.
As shown in his work with DC, Snyder knows how to make stunning visuals, and Army of the Dead continues that trend gloriously. The film is without a doubt one of the best looking of the zombie genre, with great coloring and impressive practical effects. Everything combines to create a worthwhile experience that sets this film apart from many others seen on Netflix.
At the heart of Army of the Dead is its characters. As the protagonist, Dave Bautista continues to flex his impressive acting chops. Bautista leads many of the film’s biggest moments, and he is certainly giving his all, as he repeatedly proves himself as the best wrestler-turned-actor in the business. A personal favorite is Matthias Schweighöfer as Ludwig Dieter, whose innocent nature and comedic relief provides a nice breakaway for the film – also helping with some of the film’s emotional beats, which sometimes struggle to land. Netflix seemingly has the same love for the character, as he is set to lead a prequel film titled Army of Thieves. After his performance here, everyone will almost certainly be tuning in to that project.
But a group of strong heroes must have a strong villain, and Army of the Dead does not disappoint on that front. Snyder’s latest zombies have far more personality than what audiences have grown accustomed to, adding a much bigger threat to the film. This extra depth to their personalities makes the narrative much more engaging, with more intensity to the characters that actively interests the viewer in a way a lot of zombie tales fail to do.
Although Army of the Dead has many high points, its biggest flaw is that of its runtime. After the destruction of his original Justice League at the hands of Warner Bros. (which was only recently restored with the Snyder Cut), it is clear that Snyder was given full control over this film and its runtime. However, it wouldn’t have hurt Snyder to at least trim a small amount off. Army of the Dead slots in at two and a half hours, and it certainly feels like it after a while. Luckily, a strong narrative keeps one invested for the extended time.
Army of the Dead may very well be Zack Snyder in top form, telling one of, if not his best story yet. Filled with high stakes action, enjoyable characters, and a thrilling narrative, this will surely give any viewer one hell of an experience, especially the director’s hardcore fans. As Netflix continues to expand the film’s universe with the previously mentioned prequel, as well as an anime-style series, the foundation for a great universe has been created with this really impressive first entry.