When I saw trailer for the Netflix movie Army of the Dead I knew we had to watch it… and not just as revenge for my wife making us watch all of season six of Fear the Walking Dead. This looked like what I refer to as a “Friday night movie,” which in another era might have been a drive-in movie special, a title you watch expecting it to bad and silly and are ready to embrace it as such. This is Job Bob Briggs territory, not Siskel and Ebert.
I’ve seen a number of people online complaining about this movie, saying it is bad, confused, lacks a coherent plot, among other things. And, to me, that just means they came in with the wrong set of expectations. I am more than willing to allow for a lot of unforced errors in pursuit of a great goal.
Which isn’t to say the film lacks for problems. It is a Zack Snyder movie, which means that it probably spends way too much time building back story and character motivation than it really needs to. Being a Snyder cut, the film weighs in at 148 minutes in a genre where two hours generally pushes a story well beyond anybody’s ability to care.
I will say that, were Warner Bros. left alone with the print, they could (and probably would) trim out a good 45 minutes of the run time and end up with something arguably as good, if less coherent, but the run time didn’t really weigh on me all that much.
The premise, which plays out in the intro scene and opening credits, if that a zombie being transported by the military in a secure container escapes just outside of Vegas. It immediately heads to the Las Vegas strip, biting as it goes, turning people into zombies. The military, which includes Dave Bautista and some companions, including his wife, manage to contain the zombie outbreak, walling in Las Vegas with shipping containers.
The George Romero rules of zombies apply. If you get bit, you get the zombie fever, die, and become a zombie. Bautista’s wife gets bit and turns after they get out and he has to kill her.
Then we skip forward a bit and Bautista is working at a fry cook at a roadside greasy spoon where he is approached by a casino owner who wants him to go in and retrieve $200 million that is still in the vault. The US government is going to nuke Vegas to “solve” the zombie problem due to public pressure, so the idea is that Bautista and team can slip in, steal the money, get out, and any evidence will be vaporized. For this Bautista and his team will get 25% of the take.
So it is really a heist movie. A Vegas, zombie apocalypse, casino heist movie. You have to respect that. Also, that explains the title of the post, if you didn’t make that leap already.
So Bautista has to go assemble a team, make a plan, get the access codes from the casino owner, reconcile with his estranged daughter, and deal with the “totally not the Carter Burke role from Aliens” observer the casino owner sends along as a technical advisor (who is played by the same actor who played John Dorie in Fear the Walking Dead), get into Vegas, grab the money, and get out.
Bonds are forged, betrayals are acted out, dear friends die, guns are fired at full auto, things explode, a father daughter relationship is restored, zombies bite people, and a nuclear weapons destroys Las Vegas.
I will say that I kind of like the Army of the Dead zombies better than The Walking Dead zombies. They have more depth, they dry out in the sun, come back in the rain, hibernate when bored, can zombify animals, and have a zombie hierarchy. Yes, a shot to the brain kills them, but these zombies would own the zombies from TWD. These zombies are also more contained, there being no “everybody who dies for any reason becomes a zombie” virus going around.
In the end, the cast and the special effects sell a movie like this.
The cast was very solid. Dave Bautista, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, is where you go when you can’t get Dwayne Johnson, does not disappoint. He is the anchor, and the rest of the ensemble falls into some of the heist movie roles, from flamboyant to world weary to suspicious to the clearly going to die in the first big fight. And you barely even notice that Tig Notaro was digitally injected in post production to replace Chris D’Elia, which probably made the whole thing just a bit better on all fronts. She is much better at being world weary and cynical.
And the special effects worked well. There were a couple of things I expected to see that didn’t come to pass including on that was technically not real “Checkov’s pistol” error because they ended up using it, but when you show a daydream sequence of somebody churning a zombie with a big power tool, you kind of expect it to happen, so a spiritual violation of the rule at least. If you show a pistol on the wall in the first act I don’t think you’re excused if somebody uses it to open a beer in the third act.
Overall, I had a good time. It is a dumb movie and easily could have been a bit stronger or a bit tighter or maybe had a good memorable catch phrase of three. But, as I said above, I came in with my expectations set correctly and was thus not disappointed. That, as far as I can tell, is the secret of life. This is a silly, dumb, Vegas, zombie, heist movie. If you’re expecting zombie Casino or some other Scorsese level effort, pick up the remote down and press “stop.”
I probably wouldn’t watch it again outside of a group drinking movie night, but it was still more fun and excitement than any four TWD or FTWD episodes.
Of course, if you’re not keep to spend the time… and I can’t really blame you… then Honest Trailers has you covered on the picking the movie apart front.
Also, Screen Rant’s Pitch Meeting is on the job as well.