While the streaming age has brought about some major advents when it comes to content and it’s delivery therein…it’s also rearing up with the occasional problem…
On Netflix this Friday, Army of the Dead presents a really interesting conundrum because while on one end of the spectrum this film is just a sprawling chaotic mess, but on the other end it’s an incredibly ENTERTAINING sprawling chaotic mess with a leading performance that will catch you pleasantly off guard.
When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. With little left to lose, Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.
Ultimately, Army of the Dead suffers from a certain degree of creative freedom as its excessive 148 min run time means we’ve got a fair bit of fat and gristle to chew threw before we get down to the steak in this movie which is Snyder’s penchant for some gonzo set pieces and a really good performance from Dave Bautista.
It’s happening to filmmakers everywhere, so it’s hard to blame Zack Snyder for enjoying the freedom of cutting something to his desired length thanks to the freedom that streamers provide and not having to be at least 100% conscience of theatrical turn times.
At 148 minutes it’s almost like he’s trying to take the zombie genre into some sort of sprawling Lord of The Rings type of territory. On that end, it almost works because the world building is really out of this world and with a myriad of action set pieces he really gets to embrace the over the top stylistics that history has shown he loves so well. He makes that aspect of all this worth the while because the action is all encompassing and pretty immersive as the first 20 minutes of the film is almost worth the price of your monthly subscription alone. You’ll never question that for at least several moments in the film, you’re having a hell of a lot of fun.
However on the flipside of all that, the narrative is a little disjointed as it is trying to shoehorn in a few too many characters and gives them all extended scenes that could have been handled in a peppy montage as Bautista’s character tries to assemble his team. Even as we meet everyone, the script (with a couple of exceptions) doesn’t let us get invested in this team heading into the unknown Zombie horde that is Las Vegas. Oddly enough, it all feels very rushed but slowed down all at the same time.
The script had just as many clunky lines (the veiled jab’s at the Trump administration felt lazy and cheap at this stage, despite a fun cameo in the film) as it did zingers but with some slow pacing and too many underwritten characters to deal with it only ever really resonates from one single person in this motley crew of an ensemble cast.
Dave Bautista has officially graduated from interesting supporting player to Hollywood leading man here on this one. Sure he’s a little limited at times but he’s very aware of his range and stays in it like a million bucks making us empathize and really enjoy the journey that his character is on. Let’s just hope the universe keeps giving him more work, because the more screen time he gets…the better he gets. There’s no doubt he can carry pretty much any project put in front of him, as I’d say the days of him “reading” for parts is over and the days of him accepting offers for parts has only just begun.
Sadly there isn’t much else for anyone else to work with on this because while Ana de la Regura as the love interest/partner, Ella Purnell as his daughter and Nora Arnezeder as the ‘Coyote’ got some natural chances to shine in a very strong female supporting cast that all make a strong case to be the “final girl” through it all. Unfortunately the likes of Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt and Tig Notaro were fairly wasted from beginning to end and never really had much to do other then do a cool scowl, attempt to be a menacing asshole or just be flat out weird.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to dig with Army of the Dead but its long run time takes it out of the pepping pacing that is common in the horror/zombie genre and the uneven ground of its character pacing takes this away from being an epic entry in the canon and makes it more of a fun (all be it) long diversion one evening on the couch.
It’s good…but it had the elements to actually be pretty great.