#REVIEW: Army of the Dead

I have a weird relationship with Zack Snyder. Typically, if I don’t like a director, it’s because I’ve seen several of their movies and decided, for whatever reason, that their movies aren’t for me. Sometimes it’s because of the way they direct, like, say, Michael Bay, and sometimes it’s because they consistently pick stories that don’t work out for me. Like that one dude, who made that one movie whose name I won’t say any more.

Zack Snyder is the only director I can think of who I am, effectively, boycotting. I haven’t disliked his movies so much as judged them illegitimate from the start. I have had a chip on my shoulder about DC’s film output for, oh, nearly my entire life; look at the reviews that will no doubt crop up in links below for additional details if you like. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you already know the gist; this man does not understand or care about the superheroes he makes movies about in any way and I refuse to spend money to find out I was right about something sucking.

That said: while I haven’t rewatched it in probably fifteen years, I enjoyed his remake of Dawn of the Dead, from way back in 2004 or so, which was before I knew who Zack Snyder even was, and my wife really wanted to watch Army of the Dead, and even a shitty zombie movie is still a zombie movie, and if you’d shown me the trailer without the words “Zack Snyder” appearing on them I’d have shrugged and handed over my no money, because this was showing up on Netflix and I pay for Netflix (actually, my wife does, so this isn’t even my no money) anyway.

So yeah tl;dr this is a really shitty movie. And I mean that it’s a shitty movie when judged on a “zombie movies” scale, and it’s shitty in a way that can be laid directly at the feet of the director, and it honestly kind of makes me mad that I disliked it as much as I did.

Spoilers an’ shit.

That said, let’s start with what I liked, which is the first 20 minutes or so: this movie starts off in a hurry, and gets the initial setup out of the way quickly– there’s a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, triggered by some Military Thing that isn’t explored because it really doesn’t have to be, and several of the characters get brief introductory vignettes as they’re killing zombies and rescuing people and seeing family members or friends killed, and by the end of the credits (which are playing over the introduction) Vegas is surrounded by a wall made of shipping crates, which sounds like it shouldn’t be all that secure but whatever, and the government is discussing simply nuking the place. Then there’s another 20 minutes or so of setting up the big heist that’s central to the plot and putting the team together and everyone’s stake in the mission being for progressively smaller amounts of money (which is understated and honestly kind of hilarious) and we’re off to the races.

There’s a zombie tiger and a zombie horse, but apparently there were no other nonhuman mammals anywhere in Vegas during the zombie apocalypse. The zombie tiger is kinda cool. And most of the time when shooting zombies is happening, it’s pretty cool.

That’s … about it, as far as stuff that I liked.

My first problem, and this one can be laid directly at Snyder’s feet: this entire damn movie looks like it was shot on an iPhone with portrait mode turned on. At any given time half of the screen is wildly out of focus– not just at a “look at this part of the screen” sort of way, but wildly and ridiculously out of focus, and Snyder is constantly trying to raise tension by keeping even the thing the camera is pointed at blurry as shit until he wants to reveal it. It’s obnoxious as hell and it never stops. There’s basically a bokeh effect laid over the entire damn movie, and it sucks. It absolutely sucks. So right away Snyder is guilty of making directorial choices that come very close to making every frame of the film annoying.

One of the more unique details about the way this movie handles its zombies is that it breaks them into, basically, two separate races. The king zombie (whose name is apparently, I shit thee not, Zeus, a word that is never spoken in the film, which is good because it’s dumb) is presented as practically invulnerable in the initial parts of the film (and will later don a metal, completely bulletproof helmet) (and more on this later) and is fast and reasonably smart, although he can’t talk. He has a queen zombie. Any zombies he creates personally are also faster and smarter although they appear to die just as easily as anyone else, and it’s implied that any zombies those zombies, called Alphas, create is your typical undead shambler.

Queen Zombie gets her head cut off partway through the movie and her death is used as a motivation for King Zombie, as is the death of her– wait for it– unborn zombie child, who he actually claws out of her womb. Let that one roll around in your head a bit. When you toss in the fact that Dave Bautista’s character is also motivated by having had to kill his zombified wife this means that two different women got fridged to motivate the men.

So, yeah, long story short: Dave Bautista is the emotional center of the film.

Dave fucking Bautista is the emotional center of the film.

Just, again, let that roll around.

(Wait. Shit. This happens three times, because there is a scene toward the end where one of the women members of the team Declares her Love for Dave Bautista, and When We Get Out of This Let’s Make Babies, and then immediately afterwards King Zombie shows up and breaks her neck. Immediately afterwards. So there are three women in this movie who are killed as character development for the men.)

(Wait! No! It’s even worse than that! Later, two other women will basically kill themselves— one right after the other— so that Dave Bautista can live. So that’s five. Holy shit, movie!)

There was apparently a controversy where one of the actors in the movie was revealed to be a rapey dickhead, and he was basically edited out of the movie and digitally replaced by a whole different actress? And my wife told me about this going in, so I’m not sure how distracting this would have been or if I’d have noticed it if I hadn’t known that, but once you realize that there are no other actors in probably 90% of the shots with the replacement actress in them, it becomes hilarious very quickly.

There’s this whole subplot where there are zombie refugee camps, which are … something about quarantine, and lots of temperature checks, but any time anybody turns it happens immediately, so this is kind of incoherent– but anyway, this woman leaves her kids behind to go … explore the ruins of Vegas, to try and steal shit, and she gets led in by someone they honest-to-God call a Coyote, and then abandoned in there? And Dave Bautista’s estranged daughter insists on going in there to find her, because Dave Bautista’s daughter is so unable to face the idea of having to either abandon or raise this woman’s apparently really shitty kids that she insists on risking her own life to find her. She actually emotionally blackmails her dad into bringing her (untrained, useless) ass along so that she can risk everyone else’s lives by insisting on finding this one person in this entire enormous city full of hotels so that she doesn’t have to deal with her kids.

At the end of the movie, they find the woman alive, because of course they do, and Bautista and his daughter and this woman board a helicopter to evacuate the city before the nuke hits, and other than two brief shots of her looking out of the window this lady is never mentioned again and never gets a word of dialogue. The helicopter crashes, because that’s what happens when you detonate a nuke near a helicopter, and apparently she dies in the crash, because Bautista’s daughter is utterly unconcerned about finding her afterwards and we never see a body. It’s as if the screenwriters completely forgot about her.

This also means that the daughter’s insane rescue plan (“I’ll make my dad take me into the super dangerous place to find the needle in the haystack, then run away, and then we’ll all die!”) was not only for nothing, because this woman died, which would have happened anyway, but the movie didn’t think it was important enough to make it explicit what happened to her, or ever mention her apparently-terrible kids again.

King Zombie is invulnerable at the beginning of the film, shrugging off an awful lot of close-range machine-gunnery. At the end of the film, when it is necessary for him to die so the movie can end, he is dispatched with a single pistol shot.

You find out there’s a double-cross at the end of the movie, and instead of wanting 200 million dollars the Mysterious Rich Benefactor actually wanted this other thing, but the problem with that is there wasn’t any need to lie about it. If you think you can make unlimited money from This Thing and you’re a Mysterious Rich Benefactor, then just offer a million bucks per Thing You Want and set the team loose, maybe also pointing out that hey, there’s $200 million in this vault if you want to try and get that too, and then it’s the same movie but it’s less dumb.

And I can hear some of y’all, and your point that hey, it’s a zombie movie, it doesn’t have to be smart is heard and understood, but you also don’t have to make movies deliberately stupid! Sometimes I reflect on how much movies cost and how many people are needed to work on them, and the fact that we still have movies this stupid is kind of amazing. Most of the time, making a movie smart instead of stupid isn’t even more expensive! Just, like, think about your plot for a second during the early stages, and … like, adjust things, to be less dumb.

I promise this is possible. I promise it. But making a stupid movie is a choice– no movie is accidentally stupid– and that choice means I get to criticize you for it, especially when being less stupid wouldn’t have been harder.

(EDIT: Well, that’s hilarious. WordPress’ link robots appear to have decided this post is about feminism.)

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

One thought on “#REVIEW: Army of the Dead

  1. Watched it last night … agree, agree agree. It sucked.I didn’t know about the ring-in actress, but the entire thing looked like the editing was done by a bunch of stoned teenagers.

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