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‘Army of the Dead’: A (Mostly) Earned Victory Shamble for Zack Snyder

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By MovieBabblePublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Netflix

It’s safe to say that no American filmmaker working today is quite as polarizing as Zack Snyder. Detractors renounce the Watchmen, 300, Man of Steel et al. director as the hack creator of one dour, bloated action epic after another. His fans either adore him unreservedly or appreciate his films as the work of a cynical vulgar auteur with an unflappable so-uncool-it’s-actually-cool aesthetic. Some claim he’s perversely patriotic; others argue he unearths the twisted, destructive core of American patriotism.

Love or hate the guy, Snyder is undeniably a visionary artist. When he has an idea, he follows it through to its logical extreme, no matter how ugly, garish, or expensive the end result may be. Which might explain why his latest opus, Army of the Dead, is a bit disappointing. Snyder claims the film — released on the heels of his long-awaited (and demanded) director’s cut of 2017’s Justice League — is fully his uncompromised vision. So why does this zombie thriller, after all its time in development hell, frequently feel so unfinished and (sorry) disjointed?

“If you screw me — two between the eyes.”

Our story begins on the outskirts of an alternate-reality Las Vegas. When the U.S. military accidentally frees an infected human, a massive zombie plague ravages Sin City. In a delightfully goofy (and gory) opening credits sequence, we observe the effort to combat the flesh-eaters. Before the government quarantines Vegas, a handful of mercenary zombie killers gain some fame for their efforts — most notable among them Scott Ward (Dave Bautista).

Not long after the quarantine goes into effect, Ward receives a job offer from casino mogul Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). The mission: Retrieve $200 million from a vault in one of Tanaka’s Vegas properties, the Olympus, and get out before the military’s planned nuclear attack on the city. Lured by the promise of a huge cash reward and another shot at life, Ward enlists the aid of former teammates Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), as well as a handful of eager newcomers (more about them later). Also tagging along for the ride is Ward’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), a quarantine volunteer who hopes to rescue a friend trapped in the city.

“It’s their kingdom.”

Army of the Dead is unique in that it’s technically the first non-IP project with Snyder’s name on it since 2011’s demented trash-fantasy Sucker Punch. (Even that’s a shaky claim, though, as it seems to be a spiritual sequel of sorts to his feature debut — the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.) It’s been in development since 2007, but budget issues frequently derailed the production. In the press, Snyder has called Army a “full-blown, balls-to-the-wall zombie heist movie” and described it as “incredibly singular and personal.” Regrettably, the final results fall short on both of these fronts.

In an unprecedented move, Snyder serves as his own director of photography here, taking the helm from longtime collaborator Larry Fong. This turns out to be a mixed blessing, as the cinematography here isn’t much better than your standard Marvel joint. Huge stretches of the film suffer from abysmal lighting, rendering almost every scene not shot in broad outdoor daylight nearly incomprehensible. Still, when you can tell what’s going on, it rules. The special effects and sound departments deserve props for the cold blue-grey sheen of the zombies, the intensity of their blood-curdling roars, and the supreme gnarliness of the kills.

However, that can’t quite rescue the actual story from the clunky dialogue as penned by Snyder (with co-writers Shay Hatten and Joby Harold). The self-conscious quips weigh down the narrative, making the film’s 150 (!) minutes often feel like an eternity. The filmmakers also make many a fumbling play for emotional resonance between Scott and Kate — the latter of which seems understandably peeved about the former having killed her mother after she “turned.” Bautista, as charming and sporting a performer as he may be, simply doesn’t have the charisma or pathos to lead a project like this.

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READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW ON OUR WEBSITE: https://moviebabble.com/2021/05/30/army-of-the-dead-a-mostly-earned-victory-shamble-for-zack-snyder/

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