It opens on a group of soldiers calling themselves the "Four Horsemen" and carrying an apocalyptic payload, which is unleashed once their vehicle crashes into a dude getting road head from his new bride. One bloody thing leads to another, and the hot-pink opening credits play over a montage of zombie showgirls rampaging through the casinos, of military planes carpet-bombing the Strip, of muscled warriors taking out the undead by slicing them, squashing them, and riddling them with bullets until they're reduced to a pulp — all set to the soundtrack of a Liberace impersonator singing "Viva Las Vegas."
The trouble comes when Army of the Dead tries to move beyond surface pleasures. The film's emotional throughline concerns Scott's inability to forgive himself for a traumatic incident in which he had to kill his infected wife in front of his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell). But the film lumbers through those beats like an undead "shambler" after fresh meat. There's no finesse to the scenes where he and others just spell out what they're thinking, and the film's attempt to add some personality to their relationship via an ongoing in-joke about a food truck falls flat because — as reliably charismatic as Bautista is even in strong, silent stock hero mode — neither Scott nor Kate have much of a personality, to begin with.
Zombies were once a personification of an unfettered id. Driven only by impulse and no conscience, the living undead shambled down cinema's pathway straight from George Romero's imagination into the hearts of every horror fan. There was a singular power and tension to the slow zombie because it embodied our most primal fear: the always lurking inescapability of death. To keep pace with the frenzied spiral of modern life, zombies got faster, meaner, and smarter. The zombies of the Army of the Dead have their own rule of law and hierarchy.
Snyder sets up the film to be about more. We know he’s a director keen to work with myth, religion, society, and it’s all here, to a point. There’s a commentary about immigration, about Trump (providing the film’s funniest line), and about humanity. The idea that the zombies have evolved and have a society and rules is not new, borrowing from the novel I Am Legend, and all of this is set up neatly in the first hour. But it all seems to get abandoned for the sake of some shoot-em-ups and cheap emotional exchanges designed to make you care.
Something really interesting could have been made out of the relationship between the humans and the evolved zombies but, in the end, there’s nothing that those zombie’s heightened awareness brings to the film. They may be organized but if they’re still just used as bullet fodder.
As with many of Snyder’s films, there’s nihilism at work too, the last scenes stealing us of hope much as the end credits of his Dawn of the Dead did.
In the end, the film, much like the evolved zombies, allows its hinted at smarts to lead nowhere and that’s a shame because, whilst it’s a fun ride, it could have been a more substantial one.
Army of the Dead is occasionally very funny--mostly because of late replacement Tig Notaro, but sometimes because it uses zombies in the Robert Kirkman/Edgar Wright sense. There's also a zombie tiger and a zombie horse. There are zombie other things, too, plus John Wick gun-fu done at half-speed, but you take what you can get sometimes. Army of the Dead is best when it's excessive--too gory, too stupid, too loud--and worst when it's recycling key plot points from Aliens and spending frankly too much time in the unwinnable battle to provide depth to an unwieldy cast of characters. It's also not fantastic when, to help individuate its ensemble, certain stereotypes are indulged--especially the running joke of an effete safecracker (Matthias Schweighöfer) who lets out a high-pitched scream whenever he's startled. It's not funny the first time; it doesn't get funnier through repetition. That's the problem with Snyder films in general, and in this way, he's not unlike Wagner: There's genius there now and again alongside extraordinarily sloppy matters, and both are reprised a few thousand times throughout what seems an interminable span.
Final Score – [7.3/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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