Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead ★★★

I have no idea why Zack Snyder is such a continual magnet for extreme hate and praise. Having a somewhat consistent and stylized vision for a film's look and scope isn't the be all end all of what the entire film viewing experience is about, and thus his diverse set of films should not be viewed with a lazily unified opinion of total hate or total praise for that singular reason. I think it is safe to say that Snyder's bombastic visual approach is a natural pairing with action-based movies, and it is not surprising that he spends most of this time in that venue. Unlike his remake of Dawn of the Dead, which utilized horror-style tension quite well at times alongside the action, Army of the Dead is not at all a horror film of that ilk. This is a through and through action-adventure movie with horror creatures, along the genre lines of a "Resident Evil" sequel. There's obviously the Las Vegas heist gimmick used to catalyze the storyline as well, whose sparring, but sometimes humorous, crew character dynamics and recruitment set-up feels modeled a bit after the later "Fast and the Furious" franchise entries. However, this film isn't concerned with the sleek and sexy planning and detailing and clever manuevering of the heist genre, which does feel like a lost opportunity for better genre-blending. Unfortunately, this won't be mistaken for "Ocean's Eleven with Zombies" any time soon. This is definitely an action zombie film through and through, and this film succeeds most when it commits to that idea and thrusts itself head first into the post-apocalyptic mayhem of the Vegas setting.

This will sound ironic in the wake of this community's extreme praise for the extended Justice League cut (Which I have not yet seen, but do not think would change very much for me, considering how so-so I felt about the original in either direction), but I really feel like this film needed a very large runtime trimming and huge cuts all over the place. This film's premise and Snyder's sense of scale could have yielded one of my all-time favorite zombie action movies if the film had been in the 1 hr 30 min to 1 hr 45 min range, but instead I found this to be an occasionally exhiliarating, but sometimes taxing, viewing. The film has an incredibly solid "patient zero" exposure intro followed up by one of the more entertaining opening title sequences that you will ever see, a bit like a more action-oriented take on the hilarious slow-motion and music video styled Zombieland title sequence, but honestly they could have cut the next 45 minutes following of mission set-up down to a solid 15 and still hit all of the important crew formation points. The thing just spins its wheels for a while until the mission starts. Once the action starts up again, the film becomes quite palatable again, even excellent at times, but the film still feels a step too deliberate beween set pieces, considering the big thrills of this movie are not based out of slower tension-driven survival horror, but almost entirely out of fun action pieces.

Even though he shallow-focused many of the shots into oblivion, acting as cinematographer this time around, I still really appreciate most of Snyder's visual flair here, especially in that incredible extended opening title sequence. For as many complaints as Snyder gets hurled at him, his direction (and the intrigue of the general premise) is probably the highlight of the film. I think this story and character writing felt a notch behind in the specifics of actual execution, despite the undeniable allure of this premise. The scale of this story and world-building would be best spent on a 5-10 episode series, not a 2.5 hour movie. By not trimming down the work, it feels simulatneously bloated as a movie yet still underdeveloped in terms of seeing any actual notable character growth out of all that extra runtime.

The cast is solid to decent, not remarkable by any means, but well-suited for the roles given. I think Batista executes his Dwayne Johnson-esque role well, but Ella Purnell (who I often enjoy) was tasked with a particularly annoying character. The script handled their father/daughter conflict subplot somewhat clumsily and vaguely. The lack of emotional impact generated from the father/daughter relationship conflict stands in stark contrast to the one in presented in Netflix's other recent blockbuster release, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which against all odds, generated more emotional heft while working within a family animated comedy framework than in this high stakes, life or death situation. There are some likably interesting side characters, most notably the comedically enfeebled German safecracker played by Matthias Schweighöfer and Tig Notaro's butch, no-nonsense helicopter pilot.

If I sound negative about this movie, which I actually did quite enjoy in many parts, it is because I actually ended up souring a little more on it after taking the time to write down what worked and didn't work for me here. A lot of this was damn fun while it was happening, especially within the first and third acts, but the bottom line for me is that it was just way too bloated and uneven to feel like a classic, and that I wish it actually utilized actual heist plot elements as the synopsis seemed to lead on. I think it's a solid diversion if you have two and a half hours to spare, but it doesn't feel quite like the future cult classic that the premise might have offered with different execution.

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