Review | Army of the Dead (2021)

Review | Army of the Dead (2021)

Director Zack Snyder returns to the zombie genre for Netflix with the Army of the Dead

Zack Snynder has returned to his directorial debut roots and unleashed the Army of the Dead in this full length original feature film for Netflix.

Apparently, Snyder conceived this film way back in 2007 and the project was officially announced by Warner Bros. Since then, it has been wallowing around in development hell.

Warner Bros decided not to pursue the project and Netflix snapped it up in 2019. They threw anything from a reportedly $70-90m in Snyder’s direction and told him to go film it.

What arrived in 2021 on our screens is definitely a Zack Snyder experience and that may not please everyone.

The film’s plot is fairly simple. A new zombie outbreak has engulfed Las Vegas and the city is walled off to contain the infection.

Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), who owns a Las Vegas casino, wants to retrieve $200m from its basement vault. Due to the zombie plague, the insurance company has already paid him the money.

If he can recruit a team and get the physical money back, he will be a lot richer for very little effort.

But back up a little, the film starts with a lengthy and brilliant fifteen minutes introduction of how the virus made its way into Las Vegas. I think most of the action shots from the trailer are from this introduction.

This lifted my appreciation of the marketing department as that meant the rest of the film could hold a lot of surprises.

Mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is part of this introduction sequence, and we see him rescuing various people from the zombie hordes whilst trapped inside Las Vegas.

After loosing too many friends, Ward has quit the job and resigned himself as a cook in a diner where he is contacted by Tanaka about his casino heist. Obviously a large amount of money is offered to tempt him to come back.

Ward will need to recruit a small team for this job and the amounts of money offered to each participant makes the following scenes very amusing.

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Mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) fights the undead.

In a flash back sequence, we learn that Ward’s wife was unfortunately infected, and he had to kill her in front of his now estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell). She works as a volunteer at a quarantine camp outside the Las Vegas walls, and he will use her help to get inside.

Once inside, the action will begin, but this won’t be a normal zombie film as most are expecting it. I already mentioned in my Dawn of the Dead retro review, which was also directed by Snyder, that he had switched the zombies from slow shuffling creatures to runners, amplifying the danger.

Snyder has one upped the zombie change once again and now rather than just hunting fresh meant, the zombies show a level of intelligence and a hierarchy structure.

They reminded me a lot of the vampires from I am Legend starring Will Smith. These new zombies communicate with each other with a series of grunt, growls and quiet screams.

If anything, this makes them less zombie like and a more intelligent beast that happens to mutate from a human form.

If you’re expecting to see hordes of shuffling zombies, you’re going to be disappointed. A few lines of dialogue explain where they’ve all gone and what it would take for them to return. I was expecting this as a setup but unfortunately the payoff never arrives.

The much-publicized zombie tiger feels like a case of “that is a cool idea, we have to do that!”, even if it does nothing for the film as a whole apart from one scene that it was assumedly created for.

Just like in his Dawn of the Dead remake, Snyder once again has characters making bizarre decisions. Faced with imminent death from either a zombie or another plot point introduced into the story, people seem to make irrational decisions that irritated me.

I know it’s done for drama and entertainment, but I’m one of those people that these actions wind me up a little.

For example, the team is on a very tight time limit, and they seem to use the slowest and unreliable method to set off a selection of booby traps!

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Anyone up for carrying $200m in cash?

I assume Snyder is a fan of James Cameron’s Aliens as well because the second half of the film plays out in a very similar fashion using the same story beats.

A huge credit goes to the crew on this film, to make a visual spectacle on the reported budget is very impressive. $90m is not big blockbuster money any more!

It’s been well reported that due to sexual allegations, one character who had filmed his role on set was removed digitally with a new actor replacing them.

If you don’t know who it is, and I think most won’t even notice, it has been incredibly well implemented and I even forgot about it for most of the film.

The film was quite entertaining overall, and you’ll see plenty of zombie being killed and blown to pieces.

Snyder likes for his stories to breath and play out for as much time as is needed. Of course, we have his four-hour Justice League and the director’s cut of Watchmen that runs for three hours.

Army of the Dead doesn’t quite reach those lengths, but it comes close at two and a half hours. I felt this was too long for this kind of film. I wasn’t looking at my watch, but I was becoming a little weary of it all by the end.

Once the film is over, you may also be asking yourself and with your friends several questions about the film as well. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but the big question is over a certain zombie.

It bears no relation to the rest of the story, but an internet search reveals interviews where this question will be answered in an animated prequel. It better be a good explanation, that’s all I can say.

I did enjoy the American Werewolf in London reference though.

Army of the Dead will find its mass audience online but for me, it really is a mixed bag. It wasn’t awful but the again it isn’t great either.

Two and a half stars for an average film that left me with too many questions afterwards.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.