A Zack Snyder film—that alone sums up and defines Army of the Dead. The film is written, directed and produced by Snyder, who has previously helmed the 2004 zombie horror Dawn of the Dead. Snyder is drawn to comic book, graphic novel and superhero stories with set-piece action sequences. The style of his latest feature carries his distinct stamp.
This 2021 zombie horror heist film (on Netflix) is a laborious 148 minutes long. Las Vegas has been sealed off after it was infected by a zombie invasion. When casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) tempts mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) with millions of dollars, he quickly (and without much due diligence), puts together a team that will enter the zombie inner chamber, break open a safe in the abandoned casino building, extract the money and hopefully fly out unbitten. If the casino owner had just given Scott the code to the safe it would have saved an infinite amount of time. But then Snyder needed even more ridiculous scenarios to increase the body count.
An ensemble of actors, all of whom seem to enjoy blowing off zombie heads, committedly plays uncharismatic characters. Scott’s team includes old associates Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro) along with new recruits Ludwig Dieter Matthias, Mikey Guzman (Raul Castillo) and Chambers (Samantha Win). Tanaka’s representative Martin (Garret Dillahunt) also comes along with his own firepower and agenda. In order to get access to the city, they add on the services of a scout, Lily (Nora Arnezeder). Scott’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) blackmails him into joining them so she can search for her missing friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi). The mission is fraught with danger and motivated by greed. The result cannot be tidy.
Mashing up a heist film with the zombie genre—imagine Ocean’s Eleven meets World War Z—is a cool idea but there is very little you can do with zombie design. However, the creators of this army of the undead introduce a few twists (such as a zombie king and queen) and design ideas, some of which are fun, others are just low hanging fruit.
The opening credits run over an extravagant action set piece. It’s a promising start to an interesting premise, narrated with a carefully curated soundtrack (which includes songs by Elvis Presley, Culture Club and Zombie by The Cranberries). But like the zombies, Army of the Dead is swarming with overkill and will mostly appeal to genre and Snyder fans, who expect this hyperbole.