Sunday, 23 May 2021

Netflix And Chill: Army Of The Dead (2021)

I went in without any expectations, I assure you I did. Zack Snyder isn't someone I have a very strong opinion on, despite his ability to stir up lots of fans online and get away with much more than most directors would. I like his visual style, he's done a couple of great modern blockbusters, and I'll still try to view anything he directs with an open mind.

Unfortunately, it seems that Snyder, like one or two other big name directors I could mention, has started to believe his own hype. And may be surrounded by people who don't say no often enough. There's no other reason I can think of for the succession of bad decisions made here. And I will roll my eyes and wag my finger at anyone who forgives all other errors because "zombie tiger . . . coooool."

The plot is simple. A nasty accident means that there's a massive outbreak of zombieitis in Las Vegas. There's a lot of carnage, and then Las Vegas is basically quarantined, thanks to a handy complete ring of large containers placed around it. If you're already unable to handle this level of disbelief, it just gets worse from here. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is tasked by Mr. Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to put together a team and head into Las Vegas, with the aim of collecting a massive sum of money from a casino vault before the place is flattened by nuclear rockets that don't cause any other issues for the surrounding area. Yes, this is a film in which a plan to enter a zombie-infested area just to snatch millions of dollars becomes one of the least dumb things in it, certainly by the time you get to that nuclear rocket strike.

It's also a film that features a fleeting cameo by Sean Spicer. At that point I knew that it would have to work bloody hard to win me back around. It never did.

There's some good stuff here. The gore isn't tamed down, there's an interesting variety to the zombies, and Bautista is a good leading man. It also helps that they ended up with Tig Notaro in the role of Marianne Peters, the pilot for this exploit. Notaro, from her very first scene to her last, is gold. And I'm not completely oblivious to the coolness of a zombie bloody tiger, which is involved in what is the very best death sequence in the whole film.

That's all I can think of for the positives. The script, co-written by Snyder, Shay Hatten, and Joby Harold, is mostly awful. Everyone is given too much time, no matter how minor their characters should be, the motivations are unbelievable, and the attempt to establish an actual society within the zombie realm is a big mis-step, especially when you get to a reveal in the third act that is properly hilarious when I suspect it was meant to be a serious attempt to surprise people. Surprises are lacking throughout, from the characters who turn out to have other agendas to the inevitable resolution to different relationship issues.

The runtime, just under two and a half hours, is another issue. This is a film that should have been all about forward momentum, especially if that would help to distract from the poor script, but it meanders around instead, with Snyder needing to show off every idea that popped into his head while creating the film.

Although the cast aren't bad, some are better than others. Standouts are Bautista (not great, but feels just right in his role), Notaro, Nora Arnezeder (playing someone who can guide the team into Las Vegas), Matthias Schweighöfer (the safecracker), and Garret Dillahunt. But when is Dillahunt not a standout? Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, and Raúl Castillo do what is necessary, but are either hampered by the script or just not as good as some of their co-stars.

It's not that I hated watching every minute of this. I just wished that I'd spent two and a half hours watching something much better. And there's a much better film to be made from this premise. Snyder, however, does what Snyder does. And that includes filling up the soundtrack with some horrendous cover songs, despite starting well with another bit of Richard Cheese (used so memorably in Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead remake).

I've already seen some high praise for this, and it's confounding. Everyone can like whatever they like, and it's always different strokes for different folks, but I can't help thinking that some of the people rating the film so highly are simply looking to continue keeping the pedestal upright that Snyder has managed to get himself placed on. 


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