‘Army Of The Dead’ review: fear and groaning in zombie-ridden Las Vegas

No film with an undead tiger in it can be boring – but Zack Snyder's heist thriller has few other ideas

It’s fair to say that the late George A. Romero didn’t much care for the wave of zombie dramas his seminal Night Of The Living Dead series inspired. “I’m a little pissed off because I used to be the only guy,” he told fans during a Q&A at 2012’s Toronto Film Festival. “Now everybody’s in my playground.” Even so, the genre’s newer entries didn’t make much sense to Romero or the rules he helped to establish. Zombieland? “It’s just a shoot-em up.” The Walking Dead? “A soap opera with a zombie occasionally.”

Romero’s biggest irk was ‘fast’ zombies. He couldn’t understand how the worn tendons of the undead could be capable of running, but maybe it’s the bombast of such depictions that upset him so much. Far be us to put words in the mouth of the dead – or indeed “braaaains” – but it’s not a reach to say that Romero would be further baffled by Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead.

Army Of The Dead
Dave Bautista gears up to beat down some zombies in ‘Army Of The Dead’. CREDIT: Netflix

In life, Romero passed judgement on Snyder’s high-octane, 2004 reworking of his own work, 1978 horror Dawn Of The Dead. “It was better than I expected,” he said. “I thought it was a good action film. The first 15, 20 minutes were terrific, but it sort of lost its reason for being. It was more of a video game. I’m not terrified of things running at me; it’s like Space Invaders. There was nothing going on underneath.”

This is an assessment that works just as well for Snyder’s new work, his return to the zombie flicks after 17 years. Buoyed by an enthusiastic response to his restoration of Justice League – how much of that is due to his four-hour opus simply not being the villainous Joss Whedon 2007 version remains up for debate – Army Of The Dead is a new idea, conceived long ago (the original script comes from the mid-noughties).

Perhaps this explains the binary nature of Army Of The Dead’s narrative. It’s a neat idea, a hastily assembled team of mercenaries – led by an ever watchable Dave Bautista – are tasked with breaking into zombie-infested Las Vegas to retrieve a huge score from the vaults of a deserted casino. But despite the film’s colossal running time – 148 minutes, 60 without Snyder’s favourite trick of slow mo – there’s little of the emotional maturity demonstrated in Justice League. For all the potential a zombie heist movie brings to the gambling table, Army Of The Dead contains a narrative as route one as they come.

A movie from a different time, then, conceived by a different Snyder. Army Of The Dead is often crass. Its characterisation is on the level of a ‘Guess Who?’ board game, while the political allegory is just dumb. Snyder’s zombies, um, live behind a hastily constructed wall. There’s probably some comment about the Trump administration in there, but it hurt our head trying to understand what. This being a film set in Vegas, maybe the infection isn’t a virus but capitalism itself! And yet Army Of The Dead is extremely watchable.

It’s functional. It’s slick. The opening credits – like 2009’s Watchmen, arguably the peak of proceedings – are very, very cool. Oh, and it’s got a zombie tiger in it. No film with a zombie tiger in it – a lick even the master Romero never struck upon – will never not be worthy of a Friday night viewing.

Details

  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Garret Dillahunt
  • Release date: May 21 (Netflix)
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