Zack Snyder needs a best buddy to pull him aside and tell him point blank, Dude, you gotta edit down your movies!
Snyder’s latest, ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021), a zombie apocalypse action flick starring Dave Bautista and currently available on Netflix, is exciting, action-packed, and a heck of a lot of fun. I almost loved it. Why didn’t I? Because it’s so gosh darn long! It’s two and a half hours! Had this movie been 90 minutes… heck, even two hours… it would have been so much better. If you’re going to make a movie that runs two and a half hours, you’d better have a strong enough story to hold the audience’s interest. ARMY OF THE DEAD has an average story and characters that are not fleshed out. The best thing the movie has going for it is its expertly choreographed zombie attack scenes. The action here doesn’t disappoint. But if that’s all you got, that makes for an excruciatingly long 150 minutes!
And that simply put was the part I liked the least about ARMY OF THE DEAD. It was way too long. Which is too bad. Because there was a lot I liked about this one.
Zombies invade Las Vegas! After they overrun the city, and the military fails to contain them, the decision is made to nuke the entire city. This poses a problem for billionaire casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). He’s got a ton of money in a vault in one of his casinos, which he will lose once the city is leveled by the bomb. Guess he’s never heard of electronic banking! Anyway, he hires mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to assemble a crack team of soldiers and a safe cracker to get into the city, fend off the zombies, break into the safe, retrieve the money, and get the hell out of there all before the nuke is dropped. And Ward being the movie hero that he is, accepts the offer and assembles that team, and that’s what the rest of the movie is all about.
A bank heist in the middle of a zombie apocalypse! It’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) meets WORLD WAR Z (2013). Actually it’s better than these movies. I’m not a fan of the OCEAN’S movies at all, and while I liked WORLD WAR Z, I think I enjoyed ARMY OF THE DEAD a bit more, by the length of an extended zombie finger. It’s livelier, the action sequences are more fun, and it has Dave Bautista.
Bautista was the main reason I wanted to watch ARMY OF THE DEAD. I always enjoy his performances, from his outstanding portrayal of Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his comedic turns in films like STUBER (2019). As an action star, Bautista definitely has a persona and presence, reminiscent of what Arnold Schwarzenegger used to have in his hey day.
As expected, Bautista is very good here as mercenary Scott Ward, even though he is let down by the script. This is the kind of movie where a character like Ward deserves some catchy one-liners, but there’s nary a one to be found. And I’m not so sure I bought how easily Ward decides to accept this mission. Sure, there’s a lot of money to be earned, but knowing his back story you’d think he’d just want to keep away from this sort of thing.
But Bautista brings his amiable personality to the forefront as Ward, making him yet another of his likable movie action heroes, and with his build he certainly looks the part of a soldier who can take down hordes of zombies at a time.
And while there are some other notable performances in the film, again, the screenplay by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, and Joby Harold let’s the actors down as the characters are not fleshed out, and so for two and half hours we are watching characters we know so little about go into harm’s way. The film would work so much better if we actually cared about the characters.
Ella Purnell plays Ward’s estranged daughter Kate, and she enjoys some good moments, but nothing out of the ordinary. And the idea that her dad would let her join this mission never really rang true to me.
Garret Dillahunt makes for a very suspicious right hand man to mission financer Tanaka, and the team doesn’t really trust him, and rightly so. And in his few scenes, Hiroyuki Sanada plays Tanaka as that guy you know you shouldn’t work for but you do anyway because the money is too good. We just saw Sanada a few weeks back in MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)
I really liked Nora Arnezeder as Lilly, the mysterious woman who helps the team get into Las Vegas. And Matthias Schweighofer entertains as expert safe cracker Dieter who’s a bit squeamish around zombies and has one high-pitched wail whenever he’s in danger.
Stunt man Richard Cetrone looks good as Zeus, the hulking alpha zombie leader who makes for a formidable foe. In fact, when he and Bautista’s Ward finally tangle in the film’s climax, it’s one of the movie’s highlights. Of course, it would have been even better had Zeus had more story and Cetrone was allowed to do more than just look good.
So, while I had fun watching ARMY OF THE DEAD, I would have enjoyed it much more had it been shorter, had the characters been stronger… we know so little about them it’s hard to care what happens to them… and had the actual story been a bit tighter. There’s a twist at the end which raises questions as to whether the entire bank heist was even necessary!
I’m not the biggest Zack Snyder fan. It’s been hit or miss for me with him, and the misses have not been fun. I hated BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), was lukewarm to JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and MAN OF STEEL (2013), but I really liked WATCHMEN (2009) and remember liking SUCKER PUNCH (2011) more than most others.
ARMY OF THE DEAD is not bad. In fact, it’s quite good. No lie. I enjoyed watching this one. I’m a big fan of Dave Bautista, and the action sequences work. The problem, as I have already said, is that it goes on and on, and without supporting characters to pick up the slack or a story to really keep me riveted, after a while, what was enjoyable and entertaining became less so.
At 90 minutes, ARMY OF THE DEAD would have been a helluva movie. At 150 minutes, it’s a helluva long movie. There’s a big difference between the two.