Armed with a killer idea – a heist during an epidemic of the reanimated undead – Zack Snyder returns to his zombie roots for his latest movie. The Netflix release Army of the Dead features a diverse cast (including Bollywood actor Huma Qureshi), fast-moving zombies, a ravaged urban landscape and plenty of big guns and splattered guts.
There’s light humour too, unusually for the ponderous and often pretentious Synder, as well as hints of political commentary. But the main goal is simply to deliver an action-heavy and gory entertainer.
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas that is divided into safe zones, refugee camps and zombie territory. The undead have taken over the city’s pleasure palaces, but $200 million remains hidden in an underground vault of one of the casinos.
Billionaire Bly (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires former mercenary Scott to put together a team to extract the money. Scott’s crew includes a typical mishmash of mismatched characters, including the chainsaw-yielding Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro), and the nerdy and easily frightened safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer).
Scott’s experience in “shambler” slaying has caused a strain in his relationship with his daughter Kate (Elia Purnell). Kate works at a refugee centre from which Geeta (Huma Qureshi) is trying to flee with the help of the human smuggler Lilly (Nora Arnezeder). Lilly’s understanding of the ways of the zombies – they are controlled by a highly evolved Alpha – ensures that she is added to the mix.
The bloated running length, which mirrors Scott’s ever-increasing posse, includes feeble attempts to dunk the popcorn-friendly material in treacle. It barely works: Kate’s involvement proves to be a hindrance as well as a plotting contrivance to set up an all-out battle between the undead and the lucre-hungry living.
The screenplay by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold works best when it focuses on the action set pieces – among them a tense walk through a dark passage filled with hibernating zombies and a bloodbath on the casino floor.
The other highlights include a suitably grungy look (the cinematography is also by Snyder) and imaginative sets of a ravaged Las Vegas seething with revivified versions of former gamblers, Elvis impersonators, and at least one magnificently zombified tiger. The army of humans is perfectly adequate, while the undead are impressive too.
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