ARMY OF THE DEAD movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

ARMY OF THE DEAD movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

Rating: R
Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighofer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raul Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Samantha Win, Richard Cetrone, Athena Perample
Writers: Zack Snyder & Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, story by Zack Snyder
Director: Zack Snyder
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: May 21, 2021

ARMY OF THE DEAD is something you don’t see every day. Sure, people are talking about the fact that the movie combines zombie horror with a casino heist plot. Others have also noted that it’s a zombie movie that clocks in at two hours and twenty-eight minutes.

But the really notable fact about ARMY OF THE DEAD, for those who reflexively like zombie horror, is that for once the filmmakers actually have been given a decent budget.

Director Zack Snyder’s 2004 DAWN OF THE DEAD was an impressive horror actioner. feature. A remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 feature, with a screenplay by James Gunn, Snyder’s DAWN was muscular and gory and at times quite scary.

Written by Snyder & Shay Hatten and Joby Harold from Snyder’s story, ARMY OF THE DEAD may or may not take place in the same universe as DAWN. There are still fast-moving, growling zombies on the loose, but the crisis that was full-blown in DAWN now seems more or less under control.

A prologue shows us the origins of how the undead plague hit Las Vegas, in rompy dark-comedy style. Then we get to the present day, when the U.S. government has successfully walled off Sin City and is planning to nuke the place.

Casino owner Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches one-time military hero/current diner cook Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) with an offer. There is $200 million sitting in the vault underneath Tanaka’s Las Vegas property. If Scott can put a team together, get past the zombies, into the vault and back off before the bombs drop, he and his compatriots can keep $50 million.

Highlights among Scott’s crew are Matthias Schweighofer as a naïve but proficient safecracker, and Tig Notaro as a salty helicopter pilot. Nora Arezeder also scores as a uneasy guide. Ella Purnell enacts Scott’s daughter Kate with sincerity, even though the role is saddled with patience-straining rationales.

The filmmakers try to give all of their characters something to do, which works much better with some than with others. Some characters have some truly entertaining beats in the writing and acting; others are far more rote.

Snyder and Co. seem to have had a blast designing the crumbling Vegas landscape and zombies in widely varying costumes and states of decay. The expanded mythology gives us new things to look at, more shape to the plot, and even better-defined antagonism than the subgenre usually provides.

What ARMY OF THE DEAD doesn’t have, oddly, is scares. It’s got some inventive gross-outs, and all that money allows for stunts and effects that we can actually see in all their splattery glory. But somehow, things are alternatively too heist-paced or too slowed-down to get in the kind of timing necessary for actual terror tension.

ARMY OF THE DEAD also indulges in the kind of how-long-it-takes-to-get-from-here-to-there fantasy that was common to 24. This makes resurrected running corpses seem credible by comparison. It’s not a deal breaker, but it didn’t need to be there.

While not Snyder’s best zombie movie, ARMY OF THE DEAD is largely enjoyable. It’s nice to see the subgenre get some love in terms of money that shows up well onscreen.

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