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Film Review

‘Army of the Dead’

6/2/2021

What’s the deal with those robot zombies?

“Army of the Dead”
R | 148 minutes
Director/Co-Writer: Zack Snyder
Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera

Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” displays, and sustains, the filmmaker’s signature brand of punch-drunk verve — at least, in certain stretches. An unforgettable zombie tiger, a strange sort of undead king/queen dynamic that shapes the action, a fun sequence involving using zombies to spring booby traps — these are the kind of fun, clever beats that keep “Army of the Dead” alive.

The film’s opening sequence is interesting, cannily mixing tropes of zombie cinema with Las Vegas kitsch. 

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. When the large container holding that deadly passenger is damaged, it turns out that a zombie invasion was kicked off by a distracted dude getting a hummer while driving who collided into a military vehicle carrying something top secret and very, very nasty. After it opens, the soldiers who survived the initial accident are quickly turned into the undead before climbing a hill to set their sights on Sin City itself — Las Vegas.

Snyder then unfolds a montage of the carnage that quickly happened next. Cannibalistic showgirls prowl for prey. Slot-machine junkies bundling up their remaining pittance dodge the newly infected. A dimwitted Elvis impersonator, wig askew, looks blankly over the carnage as Richard Cheese and Alison Crowe’s cover of Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas” soundtracks the zany bloodshed. It’s the rare instance where a film’s climax occurs in the first few minutes. It’s so good, so self-consciously nuts, that you could probably just stop watching there and be perfectly satisfied.

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Taking his cue from “28 Days Later,” Snyder used fast-moving zombies as the primary fright. For “Army of the Dead,” he takes the next logical leap by crafting two types of flesh-eaters: shamblers (the mindless kind) and alphas (the highly advanced kind). (He also introduces zombies that hibernate; zombies that can dry up in the sun and be revived in the rain; and robot zombies — all with zero payoff as to any explanation for these additional types.) The intro scene shows a muscular, intelligent Patient Zero zombie escaping from the transport convoy. Fast-forward to the film’s present day, and Vegas isn’t the leader-zombie’s prison, it’s the kingdom of his alphas. 

The film’s plot, such as it is, concerns a group of generic badasses who must break into a casino safe in zombie-invested Vegas and lift millions before a nuke is to be dropped on the city to relieve the country of its monster problem. 

To carry out the operation, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) first enlists his closest friends: the rough-and-tumble mechanic Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera); the philosophical, circular-saw-toting Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), and the talkative helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro, who was green-screened into the completed film to replace Chris D’Elia after allegations of sexual harassment were levied against him). They’re joined by the zombie-hunting YouTube and Reddit sensation Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), his friend Chambers (Samantha Win), and meek German safe-cracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). To keep tabs on the group, Tanaka adds his slimy head of security Martin (Garret Dillahunt).

In “Army of the Dead,” Snyder fuses two genre templates that generally benefit from tight pacing — the heist film and the zombie invasion thriller — and slows the hybrid plot down to a crawl.

Below are just some of the questions you’ll be scratching your head about after the final credits:

How did the military convoy not see the headlights coming miles away? A tactically trained military officer would have spotted the car a mile before.

How does a beat up 1970s Pontiac destroy armored military vehicles?

Why didn’t the soldiers just hop back in the Humvee next to them instead of wandering in the desert?

Why didn’t the casino boss provide the vault code or booby-trap information?

Why were they so sure that the helicopter would still fly and didn’t care much about the weight of the money and the passengers? (The cash alone would have weighed about 4,409 pounds.)

Seriously — what’s the deal with those robot zombies? What is a robot zombie? ♦

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