‘Army of the Dead’ Review: Big on Dumb, Low on Fun

Is there a more hot-and-cold director in Hollywood than Zack Snyder?

“Army of the Dead” follows a group of mercenaries (led by Dave Bautista, Omari Hardwick, and Ana de la Reguera) who are hired to retrieve $200 million from a Las Vegas casino after the city has become overrun with zombies. Zack Snyder directs a script he co-wrote.

I’m not a fanboy of Zack Snyder’s films but I do really like “Batman v Superman” and his version of “Justice League,” and got a kick out of his directorial debut “Dawn of the Dead.” His other films range from ok to bad, but no one can deny they are always a distinct vision. And that makes it all the more shocking that his return to the zombie genre, despite given free reign and $90 million by Netflix, is his most bland film to-date.

Zack Snyder can create good action scenes and build tension in a world full of the undead; we’ve seen this. But despite being rated R, “Army of the Dead” isn’t shot very well in many scenes. Snyder served as his own cinematographer, and shots just look flat and are missing the scope and color pallets of a Larry Fong (who shot several of Snyder’s films, including “Batman v Superman”). The zombie kills are sometimes fun, but at other points it’s hard to tell what is happening, and while PG-13 films have to limit what they can show Snyder has no excuse to be holding his camera so close and be cutting so often.

The performances here are, fine, but the characters are pretty thin. Dave Bautista has been worse (but he’s also been better) but there are several actors who clearly did not know what sort of movie they were making and try just a bit too hard. Tig Notaro turns in an amusing deadpan performance, and that’s impressive considering she wasn’t even supposed to be in the film. Chris D’Elia originally shot all the character’s scenes, but when several women accused him of sexually harassing them while they were underage Snyder chose to have Notaro reshoot all his scenes in front of a green screen and digitally insert her into the movie; for the most part it’s pretty seamless stuff.

The biggest things this film has working against it are its excessive 148 minute runtime and confused tone. There is no reason, zero, this film should run 2.5 hours. I am happy Snyder clearly got to make the movie he wanted (as we’ve seen with his director’s cuts of both “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League,” when his films are presented in-full they’re vastly superior to the trimmed versions), but this film doesn’t have enough content to last two hours much less two and a half. There are some very dumb things here and not even dumb in a fun way; the film wants to be an “I Am Legend” with smart zombies but also have quippy jerk characters like “Suicide Squad” and it just never gels.

You don’t go into something like “Army of the Dead” expecting high art or even anything beyond brainless entertainment, so when it struggles to even deliver on that we have a problem. Being a Netflix movie this will get right to its intended audience, and maybe others can skip around or check their phone during the slow talking parts. But I found this a wildly big missed opportunity by Snyder and a talented cast.

Critics Rating: 4/10


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