Army of the Dead starts off in a more comfortable place than most on-screen zombie apocalypses. For starters, the flesh eaters in question have already been contained within the city of Las Vegas, not long after the opener. The government has also planned a nuclear strike that will clear out the infected once and for all.
And so survivors who stay behind aren’t doing it out of desperation. Former mercenary Scott (Dave Bautista) makes that choice willingly when casino owner Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) tasks him to recover $200 million from a highly secure vault. In the diverse team that Scott puts together for the job, they come aware of the risks to varying degrees and ready to rush swarms of zombies for their share of the reward.
What insane and stupid things Man would do for money, though not all is in it for the greed. His daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) has a different quest in mind, setting her heart on rescuing her missing friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi) along the way.
This isn’t Zack Snyder’s first foray into the Z wars. In 2004, he had directed an exciting remake of Dawn of the Dead, written by horror vet James Gunn, which impressed a number of George A. Romero fans. This time, Snyder takes over writing duties too and goes in a fairly different direction, favouring flashes of colour and a much brighter atmosphere than his gritty resumé.
On paper, the light tone should work for the concept of a Danny Ocean heist in the middle of a Dead apocalypse. But the fun just wasn’t enough to keep things interesting. The heist isn’t a particularly clever one, with the team going through their tasks perfunctorily.
At 2 and a half hours, even good banter can’t prevent the drag of the long-drawn mission. Scott’s arguments with his daughter feel more obligatory than emotive, setting back the limping pace. His brooding soldiers are hard to care for, with neither credible bond between any of them nor any common goal beyond money.
Fortunately, at least two of the recruits come armed with much needed humour and personalities. Genius locksmith Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) comes with his relatable anxiety and ineptitude in Zombieland rules, while helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) gets her cool moments as she spews one-liners and smoke beside cans of fuel.
Replacing a certain someone that shall not be named, Notaro’s performance is impressive, on account of her acting entirely against a green screen. This expensive decision turns out worthwhile as Peters fits right in the rat pack, becoming easily one of the best characters in the army.
On the zombie front, the alphas attempt to make their mark too. This new species runs smarter and faster than the usual shamblers, sharing closer DNA with the steampunk residents of Mad Max than the dreadful dead that Romero raised.
The novelty, however, soon fades. Despite the dangerous implications of speed and heightened intelligence, the threat just doesn’t seem that real when the alphas are open to bribery and negotiation.
What’s left then is a few memorable sequences that rely on its well-chosen backdrop. Cue the CG zombie tiger, whose feast almost rivals the Jaws cameo in Zombi 2. There is also the much anticipated heist escape that utilises the casino setting at last. If there isn’t a better place than the city of sin for some fleshing-ripping carnage. Hell yes Vegas, for saving the day from complete tedium.
Army of the Dead is now on Netflix