The year of Zack Snyder continues with another action-packed attempt at an undead apocalypse flick, Army of the Dead. A movie with as many problems as it has slow-motion zombie super-soldiers.
In 2004 Zack Snyder burst onto the scene with an uber stylised remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a competent remake that has a lot to like and a lot to be forgiving of considering it was his debut. Snyder has always been a divisive figure, with many critics citing egregious runtimes, stilted dialogue, and a dour tone as his detracting factors.
The other side of the coin sees a cult following who enjoy his masterful cinematography and often eye-watering high-concept filmmaking techniques that make his filmography stand out. Both sides are given equal time in the sun in Army of the Dead, the film being one of the most fifty-fifty filmgoing experiences (since the previous Zack Snyder filmgoing experience).
Snyder does it all here, literally. He writes, directs and even helms the camera on this project. His work ethic and passion for this particular project are certainly felt, with every frame popping out with a genuinely interesting presentation; that of a very shallow depth of field, making every shot feel unique and suspenseful as shapes lurk in the blurry background.
The zombie action is the real meat and potatoes that most will come to this movie for, and it doesn’t disappoint. Aside from the insanely creative opening credits (a Snyder hallmark by this point), the action takes a while to arrive, but when it does arrive, it is gory and fun, exactly what it should be. The cast, for the most part, is good too. Standouts included Dave Bautista, performing so good you’ll forget about his WWE roots. A brave German character named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and his super muscular friend, both played to comical and emotional perfection, and comedian Tig Notaro, who was green-screened into the film in post-production.
And that’s about all the positives. At an obnoxious two-and-a-half hours, Zack Snyder’s movies need to be shorter. There is a good action movie somewhere in the bloated runtime, but many cool moments are swamped by overly dramatic and overly long empty emotional scenes. Snyder decides to add a circus of characters, half of which do not need to be in the final cut but are included for seemingly no reason other than to act as zombie food.
The story begins to fall apart about halfway through as many plot holes and bizarre character decisions take centre stage. By the end, it just becomes a blur of fast-paced editing, and the extended set-up begins to take a toll as, by then, you stop caring. Finally, Snyder has this obsession with covering old popular jams with incredibly overdramatic vocals that add absolutely nothing but a poor pace to the film and maybe a cheaper budget as they don’t have to pay royalties to get the original song recordings.
In the end, Army of the Dead is the perfect Snyder categorisation. It’s way too long, with dull characters and a plot that unravels itself as the bumbling characters exposit some truly awful dialogue. But undeniably, it is fun in parts and does have its moments, and if for nothing else, the opening credits should be considered among the best put to film ever.
Snyder, you can do better. Let’s hope this was just a stumble.
A live tiger, carefully decorated in makeup, was used for some shots of the zombie tiger with a trainer present at all times. As for the computer-generated model, the reference was one of Carole Baskin’s tigers from the iconic Netflix documentary series Tiger King (2020).