Y’all, Zack Snyder is not a good filmmaker. I’m sorry if this is how you had to find out.
His pacing is awful, his characters are flat, and his one usual exception (that famous eye for dazzling cinematography, usually by filming comic compositions other people designed) is almost entirely absent here.
TL;DR: movie bad, too long, not fun, very boring, do not watch.
Otherwise, FULL SPOILERS AHEAD…
Things seem alright for the first 10min or so. Ok, cool. Looks like we’re getting some kind of zombie plague overtaking Las Vegas. Cool cool. That’s fun and goofy!
Cue the opening credits, wherein we see said plague overtaking Vegas. There’s no dialogue, just really cinematic action shots showing us some compressed character arcs. Drama, action, gore, the works!
This is a weird way to start, I think. Are they going to flash back 48 hours or something now? Cos that kinda kills any narrative tension since I just saw who lives and dies.
Nope. Now it’s some indeterminate amount of time afterwards and we’re doing a heist movie! Fuck yeah! Zombies in Vegas with some big personalities and specialized skillsets to bounce off one another? Brilliant take.
But nothing comes of any of it. None of the setups pay anything off. Here’s a short list of things that might initially appear to have narrative significance when introduced that never resolve:
- Supposedly the safe is the most difficult safe in the world to crack. There is less screentime and tension dedicated to this than there is to a random flashback near the start showing something that characters had already discussed. We see nothing about how this master cracker decodes this mythic puzzle. He just asks for silence and then five minutes later it’s open.
- One of the characters is shown pulling off multi-headshots on a streaming channel? It’s unclear when/where this happened. It’s the reason he’s brought onto the team! He never once uses this skill.
- A woman’s children are left in the camp outside the Vegas wall and so are assumedly vaporised by the nuke at the end.
- Turning into a zombie takes anywhere from one minute to ten hours for no coherent reason, completely at random.
- Said woman is the subject of a rescue effort that completely jeopardises the main heist, but then dies (?) in the helicopter crash at the end. Not actually confirmed, the movie just forgets she exists just like it does her children.
- The zombies are aliens? Some of them have glowing blue eyes. Some of them are smart. One of them is pregnant. There is apparently some kind of heirarchical social order? None of this has any follow-through. Why add these traits? A zombie heist is fine on its own. We don’t need additional reasons for the people to be chased. They’re zombies.
- In the vault there are the mummified bodies of a previous safecracking team wearing identical outfits to the current crew. One of the characters notices this and suggests that maybe they’re trapped in a time loop or some kind of repentant hell. This is never once mentioned again. Why is this in the film?
- The reason for the heist was ultimately completely arbitrary, since the real target was the head of the zombie “queen”. Why bother sending multiple teams to crack the safe then? Half the team came on board for less than a million dollars each, you could have easily just paid less of them to get a sample.
- Speaking of which: There’s a joke at the start where each member of the crew gets offered less and less of a cut (unbeknownst to the others) and yet they all agree enthusiastically. This is a good joke! It lands well in We’re The Millers. Thing is, they literally explain they’re going to do it one scene earlier which completely undercuts the gag. What happens when any person mentions the money they’re getting, or opens the vault and realises their cut is literally millions of dollars lower than the others?
- There’s a pile of dead/dehydrated zombies at the start, and one of the characters mentions that when it rains they all wake up. This is never mentioned again and doesn’t happen in the movie.
There’s plenty of other weird junk just kind of arbitrarily thrown into the plot. There’s a border guard who’s only there to make a couple of rape and assault jokes and then get used as bait as soon as they’re inside. But then he gets turned into a superzombie. But then he gets shot in the head almost immediately without any consequence.
Dave Bautista’s daughter joins the crew of armoured, heavy-arms weilding bandits and maniacs at the last second (see above thread about finding a woman lost inside zombie-infeated Las Vegas and work out how good an idea this is). Her white singlet remains perfectly clean for the entire film until she is in a helicopter crash at the very end. Not even any dust or fingerprints. In the desert. During a zombie plague.
Said helicopter flies across town at one point to rescue this daughter from another building and yet somehow the zombie king gets there faster on a horse. Also the zombie king has a horse and knows to guard his brain with a helmet. Nothing clever comes of either of these things.
One character pushes another inside the vault and slowly closes the door to save them, which could have been just as easily achieved if they were both on the inside. Later, this character emerges alive after Las Vegas has been nuked, somehow not boiled alive inside the vault or dead of radiation. He buys a plane and then realises he’s been bitten but hasn’t turned into a zombie despite this being anywhere from hours to days after the bite. Other characters turned in minutes. There are no rules.
Even discounting the absolute shambles of a plot, the technical aspects are a fucking mess.
Half the film is out of focus. Character dialogue almost entirely takes place at a complete standstill in extreme close up so we can’t see where they are, any body language, or any interaction with the person they’re speaking to. It’s extremely flat and boring. This also happens in action sequences so we have no sense of space or danger. Snyder at least usually excels at shot design and execution but none of that is on display outside of the opening sequence.
You could just watch the opening sequence and save yourself from another 2+ hours.
As a bonus, here are three references to Aliens that I caught:
- Dave Bautista’s PTSD nightmare inspires him to go back into danger. Except, this is for money, while Ripley was doing it for closure and to see the hostile species erased.
- The sleazy corporate tagalong is trying to steal a sample for his boss. Nobody trusts him and multiple people suggest just killing him and lying about it because he’s definitely suspicious. When he abandons the team to die he gets picked off immedately by a zombie tiger and the whole thing just looks like a guy getting yanked around on a wire with a CG tiger kinda stuck in there.
- The helicopter pilot does a fake-out leave from the platform at the climax. In Aliens this is because the platform is collapsing and the pilot had to take off and do a lap before coming back. In this it’s because the pilot thought about leaving with all the money but then had a change of heart. There is no money in the helicopter.
Army of the Dead adds nothing to either genre that it proposes itself to be, and doesn’t even manage to make good on a ridiculously fun premise. You couldn’t cut an 80min thrillride out of this 148min dreck.
In conclusion, watch Aliens instead.