I had high expectations for this one. For those of you unaware, Snyder helmed 2004’s Day Of The Dead for Strike Entertainment (and others). Day was a remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 film of the same name; and while it was scripted by Guardians Of The Galaxy’s helmer James Gunn it clearly had the director’s imprint for sharp visuals, snappy quick characterizations, and an overall pace that allowed for equal parts tension and reflection. When Army was announced, there was a lot of hullaballoo over how this was Snyder’s return to the zombie genre, one largely reinvigorated in Hollywood with Day’s box office performance; so I think anyone who feels a kinship with this type of flick would understandably welcome this development with open arms.
But … yowza. Army Of The Dead is surprisingly dull.
Now, let me clarify that: it has some action set pieces, the kind of which walking dead pictures require. There are three – a great set-up detailing Las Vegas’s fall and then two more once our would-be vault robbers get inside the city that never sleeps. (Some could argue there are more, but I’m sticking with these three sequences as the others just don’t have the length traditional thrill rides do.) So those coming in wanting to see our heroes fighting the living dead will be rewarded. For sure.
However, what gives a narrative any of its emotional punch is caring about the characters, and this Army is damn near anonymous from start-to-finish.
By comparison, 2004’s Day Of The Dead got it right.
That script gave each of the players a moment or two which helped define who they were for the purposes of not only their collective journey but an individual character arc: you knew (if you were watching closely) who was going to double-cross whom, and all you had to do was wait for the right moment, which remained mostly unpredictable. Army is populated with a similar mix of somebodies – the brave, uncompromising lead along with his loyal sidekicks and even a family member to spare (not) are joined by a top-notch safecracker, a ‘people trafficker’ with a heart of gold, and the usual corporate suck-up – but their moments are too slim to grant them the kind of exposure required for the audience’s attachment. In fact, I’d argue only the corporate suck-up is given any true moment – and it’s a good one – but its effect is fleeting: he’s given a second one later in the film (when others have been granted nothing?), but it comes with no foreshadowing whatsoever and might end up only confusing viewers instead of deepening the relationship.
Furthermore, anyone watching closely might wonder how in the Sam Hill our lead (played by a mumbling and seemingly disinterested Dave Bautista) had the smarts and the contacts needed to put together such a crack team? All we’re told about him is that he’s former military, and he survived the original Vegas collapse: oh, yeah, that and he’s a great cook! (?!?!?!) As Scott Ward, he demonstrates no real leadership skills whatsoever and makes so many ill-informed decisions along the way one wonders who’d follow him into combat except for the fact that he resembles your typical asskicker. Yet, he puts together this team to pull a casino heist within a matter of hours?
I’m gonna leave it there. There’s more – far more – involving bad science, how did this virus jump the species barrier in only a matter of days, what’s the time frame for Vegas’ fall and the film’s ‘present,’ and why did the U.S. government wait so long to nuke an already destroyed city (and I could go on) – but I’m not sure it’s worth the time. As I said, it’s a disappointment – a damn big one, too – and the fact that it’s getting a sequel/prequel is confusing to me. No one portrayed in this lackluster actioner is worth another look. ‘Nuff said.
Only MILDLY RECOMMENDED with an explanation: I suppose the best I could say about Army Of The Dead is that it’s worth a single viewing only if you love Fantasy-themed Apocalypse movies as much as I do. Otherwise, it’s a wasteland (pun intended) populated with uninteresting characters and plotholes galore. I expected more – much more, in fact – from director Snyder, but I’m kinda/sorta unsurprised this one was dumped on streaming the way it is: had it been recut and reworked perhaps as a limited series event, some material could’ve been plugged in to make it palatable. As it is? Well, let’s call it a corpse.