Obviously, Zack Snyder is more comfortable with dead people than with superheroes.
His latest movie, “Army of the Dead”, is the most entertaining movie he’s been in years. The film, which premieres on Netflix this weekend, offers a fresh twist on the zombie genre by adding a healthy dose of action movie, some heist movie zing, and a touch of humor. While the different elements don’t mix very well in the final moments of the movie, most of the movie offers enough extravagant, gory fun to keep your attention the whole time. Considering the movie comes out after two and a half hours, that’s a big achievement.
The movie sets off the zombie apocalypse just outside of Las Vegas, thanks to the unfortunate encounter of a military convoy and some overly playful newlyweds. It zips through the early days to a world where Vegas is now a containment area and a bunch of former zombie fighters have returned to civilian life. When a wealthy businessman sends them back in to retrieve $ 200 million left in a safe, they assemble a team and head back to the zombie terrain.
For much of the movie, “Army of the Dead” comes out as a particularly gory team action movie with heist elements. The key to both heist and action movies is the team, and here we get a nice mix anchored by the very well-watched Dave Bautista. There’s a good mix of character types, and there are even a handful of relationships that the movie deftly portrays in the midst of all the action. Honestly, I would love to see these people steal money whether or not zombies were involved.
If I had to pick a highlight, it would be Tig Notaro as the slightly wacky pilot character so beloved by the action genre. She came to the movie at the last minute (many of her scenes were cut short afterwards) and she still manages to be the most consistently entertaining character on screen. Hollywood, please consider replacing more of your gray, tough male characters with Notaro. The audience will thank you.
However, other genre changes do not come into their own. The zombies operate on questionable fictional logic that makes one of them zombie pregnant at one point, setting them up more like a new species than the shuffling dead. Movie-wise, they are pretty menacing villains, but they don’t play into deeply basic horror like most zombies do.
Still, they cause a fair amount of carnage. There are some spectacularly bloody deaths scattered throughout the first part of the movie, and by the end there are so many of them that it’s hard to keep up. My absolute favorite is that of a zombie tiger named Valentine, especially since the character she kills so deserves it.
It’s one of the few moments of catharsis available in the final stretch of the movie. Here the humor, action and robbery elements disappear and we are left with a pure zombie film that embraces the genre wholeheartedly. While it should come as no surprise to those familiar with zombie movies, the balance of the past makes the transition somewhat shocking.
Still, it’s a lot of fun getting there, which I haven’t been able to say about a Snyder movie in a while. Obviously this is a sandbox in which he should spend more time playing.
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