Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★★

Army of the Dead is Zack Snyder’s first zombie movie since 2004 and the most entertaining thing he’s made for a while. It trades the pomposity of his superhero epics for B-movie thrills and is a more stripped down and fun product as a result.

The plot begins with a mission to transport a dangerous cargo which accidentally unleashes a zombie apocalypse in Las Vegas. A group of mercenaries led by David Batista’s Scott Ward are recruited to retrieve $200 million from a casino before the whole city is destroyed by the military. Unknown to the team, the ghouls within the containment zone have begun to evolve their own hierarchy and may be far more dangerous than they expect.

Almost everything in the film is over the top, from the stakes which involve Vegas being destroyed with a nuclear missile to the giant, feral bands of zombies, to the gang of misfits who make up the heist crew. The best sequence is the opening montage of Vegas being overrun by hordes of ravenous undead; it’s fun in a way that the rest of the movie can’t quite live up to and shows that on a good day Snyder can be a brilliant visual storyteller.

The B-movie atmosphere extends to the acting; Dave Batista has been good in movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy but gives a weirdly unenthusiastic performance here, which is egregious since this story seems to demand Arnold Schwarzenegger levels of hamming it up. In the supporting cast the most successful is Tig Notaro as a kooky helicopter pilot, a role she was green screened into. It’s impressive that she manages to have the most convincing relationships with the rest of the cast despite never physically meeting most of them during filming.

Most of the other characters don’t stand out to the same degree or only do so in the wrong way, with Matthias Schweighöfer giving an irritating performance as resident safe cracker and comic relief Gunther. In common with most zombie films there are members of the group who later become the enemy within, but Army of the Dead telegraphs who they are so strongly that it deflates a lot of the suspense.

The hierarchies of the undead depicted are fascinating; there are not only running and shambling zombies, but intelligent, helmet-wearing zombies, and on the non-human side zombie horses and a zombie tiger. The idea of the ‘alpha’ ghouls able to keep the rest of their kin in line through force of personality also helps to make them more threatening antagonists than the usual mindless horde.

The market for zombie movies has been oversaturated for years- check the horror section of Netflix if you don’t believe me- and despite changing a few things Army of the Dead doesn’t do a lot to shake up the genre. It’s still a fun ride even if its story is as mindless as the shambling undead.