Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★★

It's a flagrant structural redux of 'Aliens' (right down to the fake-out device of the rescue transport not being there when the desperately fleeing characters need it the most). But at least Snyder plays fair and makes his influences apparent by having the Carter Burke traitor character actually be on the receiving end of a QUOTE that Ellen Ripley directed at Carter Burke, as if to say 'we know that we're copying 'Aliens'. And we know that you know that we're copying 'Aliens' too. So we're just getting in ahead of your criticism of us ripping off 'Aliens'. Fair play to such metatextual awareness.

Elsewhere, 'Army Of The Dead' marks a back to basics rehab gig for Snyder after a few years of turbulent entanglements with superhero behemoths and personal tragedy. And he displays a certain relish in being turned loose away from the pressures of appeasing rancorous fanboys, unleashing a cascade of interesting visuals and distinctively conceived set-pieces. The movie is too long and baggy to work as effectively as it might when judged as an unalloyed escape-from-the-belly-of-the-beast action thriller (I wonder if the streaming era is having a prosperous impact on filmmaker pacing indulgence, with the piss-break factor no longer a consideration). The family conflicts are rote (what do you think that the odds are that the estranged father and daughter will tearfully reconcile?). And, we have to acknowledge, Dave Bautista is simply not a leading man. The 'Guardians of the Galaxy' franchise used him masterfully as a lunkish comic stooge amongst an ensemble, but he doesn't demonstrate the charisma or presence necessary to carry a film. He has a funny mid-movie speech here about the versatility of tofu that a better actor or star would have made sing, but it just falls flat here coming out of Bautista's mouth.

What's cool about 'Army Of The Dead', though, is that Netflix has seen fit to bundle it with a fairly substantial 'making of' documentary, the kind of physical-media mainstay that streaming is unfortunately rendering endangered. What's particularly interesting about it is the sequence of a relaxed, liberated Snyder waxing lyrical about his newfound Japanese lenses that he uses (some critics would say 'overuses') throughout the film to create a very particular Bokeh effect and out-of-focus diffusion in the visuals. A FIlmmaker At Play.

And there's integrity in that. When you get down to brass tacks, isn't appreciating a filmmaker at play the reason that we're all here?

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