Zombie movies have thrived for years off of lack of plot and lurid violence. With Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, so much plot is packed in there is barely enough room for the zombies, though the gore is still there in buckets.
A horde of the undead have taken over Las Vegas and the government has sectioned off the city to contain the infection. In order to curb it further, the president is planning on nuking the city. Businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) recruits former mercenary-turned fry cook Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to infiltrate the city and rescue $200 million from a casino vault.
Scott puts together a team including his former teammates Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick), alongside an eclectic cast of characters to pull off the heist. Scott is also forced to involve his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) in order to get the group into the city. Bly sends his own representative Martin (Garrett Dillahunt) to keep an eye on things. The group enters the city and races against time to get the money, not get eaten and retrieve the money before it all goes boom.
Snyder excels with the story setup featuring a group of soldiers who inadvertently set off the events of the film. Additionally, his signature song choices punctuate the opening minutes of the film where the main characters are established and the tone is set. Unfortunately for the rest of the film, the tone and quality of the opening credits is never matched. Instead, the film can’t decide if everything is one big joke or if things are deadly serious. Every time the film settles in to the humor, something horrific and serious happens. The same thing happens in reverse.
Bautista posits himself as best as he can, but there isn’t much for him to work with. He is more of a blunt instrument than a human being and his characterization is not allowed to stretch beyond the base features. Tig Notaro and Matthias Schweighofer provide the comic relief, but both are one-note in their humor and are also not allowed to be anything more than their stereotype. de la Reguera gives my favorite performance as someone who shows more below the surface that the film presents, but once she is allowed to expand, she is pushed aside.
The sheer number of characters grows to silly proportions. Ward recruits his two friends, who in turn have to recruit three others, but two others tag along with them, while Martin is included alongside Kate. Finally, the team is together, but we need to add one more person, who brings another along with them. By the time any rhythm is established, characters start dying off and the dynamic is broken.
The action is plentiful but takes plenty of time to get to that point. The plot of the film revolves around this race against time, but the film moves at a glacial pace. At one point, the team waits for the safe to be opened, but the process is interrupted and started again, for little reason than to inch closer to the countdown clock. A film featuring a bank heist, putting together a team and zombies should not take 148 minutes.
Snyder excels at the action sequences and montages, but everything around it is so bloated with stupid it can’t be taken seriously. Looking for an unnecessary potential time loop sequence or a “zombie soliders are the real worth” speech, this film has got it. Even the kills begin visceral and interesting and eventually get repetitive.
I understand why Snyder wanted a chance to revisit this world, but there is just too much extra in every frame. Fewer characters, smaller scale, straighter tone…some solution would have made Army of the Dead a watchable experience instead of the mess it becomes.