After a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of hirelings takes the ultimate gamble by venturing into the quarantine zone for the greatest heist ever.
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On the heels of HBO Max releasing Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of “Justice League,” the divisive filmmaker hops from one major streamer to another with next week’s Netflix premiere of “Army of the Dead,” released in a limited theatrical release. One can’t title a zombie movie anything like “Army of the Dead” and not expect to draw comparisons to the great George A. Romero, but Snyder’s lineage includes managing the only good remake of one of the master’s undead flicks in his 2004 version of “Dawn of the Dead.”
“Army of the Dead” opens with a clever scene involving a military transport colliding with a pair of newlyweds “celebrating” their marriage in an unusual way while driving down a Nevada highway. A bit of dialogue reveals that the convoy has recently come from Area 51 and that their undefined payload is so dangerous that their military-grade weapons won’t make much of an impact, probably a Zombie. When the large container holding that deadly passenger is damaged, it opens, and the soldiers who survived the accident are pretty quickly turned into the undead before climbing a hill to set their sights on the city of sin, Las Vegas.
Being Snyder, the mythology is poorly defined but this is how the hierarchy plays out. There are the shamblers. As the name suggests, they are the traditional Romero variety. There are the Alphas, who could possibly compete science. No more slaves to just their appetite, they display intelligence and emotion. They all answer to Zeus, the zombie who turned them. He is the king of the zombies, and he’s got himself a pregnant Queen.
Snyder isn’t rewriting the genre’s grammar here. Romero himself did that in his later films as zombies began to remember their past lives and showcased improved motor and perception skills. Snyder can’t articulate his politics as clearly. There is a camp where refugees are ill-treated, and a coyote who smuggles those looking for a better life. The inarticulate president is a clear Trump stand-in. But this subtext doesn’t evolve into any substantial comment. The film truly displays the role of politics as well in all sorts.
The idea of a heist in the middle of a zombie apocalypse sounds great during the planning stage of the movie. But Snyder doesn’t take it very far, save for a scene where the squad must walk through a room full of hibernating shamblers, which evokes the same idea as moving through a laser grid hallway in heist movies. The other unforgivable crime Snyder commits is he gives us a zombie film that doesn’t leave you remotely scared. What Army of the Dead proves is giving zombies personalities will not reanimate a dying genre.