The cinemas might be gearing up for a huge summer blow-out, with a cavalcade of blockbusters ready to hit the big screen over the next few months, but that doesn’t mean the streaming services haven’t got something up their sleeves too. In fact, this weekend Netflix brings out the big guns, with the action-horror movie, Army of the Dead.
Directed by Zack Snyder, and budgeted at $90 million, Army of the Dead is a heist movie, about a team of mercenaries who infiltrate a zombie-infected Las Vegas, to steal $200 million from a casino vault. The team have a 32-hour window of opportunity with which to obtain the money, before the US military cuts its losses with the city, and implements a nuclear strike.
Although the team boasts a strong skillset, including a helicopter pilot and an ace safecracker, this is a horror movie, and of course, things don’t go quite to plan. Some of the Vegas zombies are faster and smarter than their peers, and they aren’t going to let anyone leave their city without a fight.
What follows is a series of spectacular set pieces, which are both action-packed and gruesome, as the mercenaries find themselves battling the undead, while trying to stay alive. The film is big, loud, and it is filled with the sorts of visual touches you might expect from a Zack Snyder picture.
Army of the Dead stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer and Tig Notaro. The movie is available to stream on Netflix from today, although it has also received a limited release in selected theatres in the US, so you may be able to catch it on the big screen depending on where you live.
Now, before diving into a discussion about Army of the Dead, I should point out that this movie is NOT a sequel to the 2004 horror film, Dawn of the Dead, which was also directed by Zack Snyder. Instead, this is the beginning of a new movie series, which will soon include a prequel film in Army of Thieves (2022), as well as an anime series, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas – both of which will appear on Netflix in the not-too-distant future.
So, Army of Dead is being viewed as a big deal for Netflix. A franchise is on the horizon and with a high-profile director such as Snyder attached, this movie is sure to attract audiences, keen to check it out.
And those who do give it a whirl will find much to enjoy – this is a slick, stylish horror-heist with a great visual flair. It has Snyder’s DNA all over it; from action montages, to slightly out-of-focus shots, there’s no mistaking who made this picture.
The film also boasts one of Snyder’s signature pieces – a hefty running time. This movie clocks in at around the 2-hour-30-minute mark, and while this is nowhere near the bum-numb-a-thon that the recent cut of Justice League was, it is still a long movie.
For me, the running time is the weak point of the picture, but arguably the movie’s only bone of contention. It is too long, but then, I feel that all Zack Snyder movies are too long, and could do with a little trimming – other people would disagree.
But move past the length of this film and wow, this is a great picture. It is a visual treat with so much eye-candy thrown at the screen, and as a little horror nerd, I found myself lapping it all up.
Some of the zombie designs are incredibly detailed and they really enrich the world that has been created. I mentioned earlier that this movie will soon be followed by a couple of Netflix spin-offs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more spin-off opportunities don’t pop up soon.
I could easily see this movie being turned into a comic, a series of action figures, a collection of novels, or even a computer game. There are so many elements that could be lifted and repurposed, especially when it comes to the zombies.
Remember when you used to get excited about watching old monster movies, because they felt fresh and inventive? That’s what this film feels like, with great-looking monsters.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know Army of the Dead isn’t entirely original stuff – the plot shares many similarities to the 2020 movie, Peninsula – but when it comes to the zombies, a lot of thought has gone into crafting their world. I should also note, that this movie works better than Peninsula, just in case you wondered.
As well as the visuals, the cast of the movie is also pretty interesting, in that none of the characters stand-out as scene stealers, yet all of them work very well together. Dave Bautista is the lead, and a very likeable lead too, but this is an ensemble piece, with each actor/character playing their part to deliver the story.
There is some heart in the centre of the picture, but this is largely an action-orientated movie, with characters mostly incorporated into proceedings so they can become zombie chow. Like Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), Pitch Black (2000) and many other movies that have come before, this is a picture in which casualties become part of the story, so audiences aren’t supposed to become too attached to every character.
The important thing is that for a movie like this to work, the audience has to be interested in the mercenaries just enough, so that they can move the plot from A to B before they are killed off. Zack Snyder chose well with his cast, because they all manage to keep things ticking along.
He also chose well when it came to casting Tig Notaro, who plays helicopter pilot, Marianne Peters. Notaro was a last-minute addition to the cast, who was hired to replace actor Chris D’Elia when he was dropped from the movie due to sexual harassment claims.
D’Elia had already shot his scenes when the claims were made, so Notaro was brought on board to reshoot his material and had to be digitally added to the picture at a later date – she did not film with any of the other cast members. Her inclusion is seamless and she becomes one of the best characters in the picture.
I really like Army of the Dead. This is a strong movie which displays a great deal of style, but also plenty of substance.
It has all the characteristics of a huge blockbuster, includes plenty of gore to keep horror-hounds happy, and contains just enough of the human angle to make audiences become emotionally attached.
The film also does the interesting thing of creating a self-contained story, but with enough little threads that can be tugged at for all of the associated spin-offs. After watching Army of the Dead, I am now very curious about the events that took place before this movie begins, and also about the events that take place after it concludes. I feel that this one picture has created a world I wish to return to, and so long as all future stories are as visually rich and creative as this one, then I will stick around for the journey.
If you’re not quite ready to return to the cinema yet, then this movie is sure to provide you with plenty of entertainment at home. It is a big movie, high on spectacle, and perfect to be enjoyed with a huge bowl of popcorn.