Army of the Dead

There’s more color in this poster than in the entire movie.

This movie has a good opening, and a strong first act. But it gets worse the longer it goes on, and it goes on for a long time. By then end I was just so glad it was finally over.

The movie is the latest big budget Netflix offering. Written, directed, produced, and shot by Zack Snyder fresh off his justice League Snyder Cut a movie so long it might still be playing for all we know. Snyder is a fan of excess in his movies and this particular movie is pure excess. There is too much of everything in this movie and it just wears me down.

In the film a military convoy carrying patient zero crashes outside Las Vegas leading to a zombie outbreak and the entire city being quarantined and cut off. After a few years, the president decides to nuke the city eradicating the threat. Before the big one drops however, Mr. Tanaka played by the great Hiroyuki Sanada assembled a team to enter Vegas and break into a massive vault containing hundreds of millions of dollars. It turns out Scott Ward, played by the mountain of a man Dave Bautista, is just the man for the job. He assembles his team of zombie killing thieves to infiltrate the city, break into the vault, and steal the millions.

It could be a classic genre mashup. A heist movie in a zombie film. For the first half of the movie, there is a lot of fun to be had. The opening montage feels satirical in its slow motion excess. There’s a claustrophobic scene of real tension as our thieves must walk through a dark hotel kitchen full of hibernating zombies that could wake up at any moment. It has a great “assembling the team” sequence that culminates in an awesome scene for Tig Notaro. She plays a pilot so bored with her life that flying a helicopter through a city full of zombies sounds like a great time.

From there it’s just a slog of problems. It starts for me with the cinematography. This is an ugly movie. It’s hard to look at. Snyder employs extremely shallow depth of field and soft focus throughout. This means that most scenes are out of focus and blurry. I don’t think there’s a single scene in this movie that is in clear sharp focus. The color palette is all muted grayish khaki. So everything looks like a white tshirt that got thrown in the wash with a load of brown clothes. I spent the first half checking my glasses to make sure they weren’t smudged and the second half thinking I was going blind.

My other big issue is how mean the movie is. It is needlessly cruel to a lot of its characters. Women get harassed and assaulted. A man is tortured by zombies. A main character gets beaten half to death. A man is mauled for about ten minutes by a zombie tiger. The cruelty in itself isn’t the problem. Watching a villain get his comeuppance can be satisfying. The problem is how long we have to linger on the pain and torment being endured. A main character is beaten senselessly for an extended period of time. The man mauled by a tiger is shown in horrendous detail. We get out noses rubbed in his pain. It’s not fun or entertaining or horrifying. It’s just unpleasant.

There’s one good scene that gets spoiled by the filmmaking. It involves Scott trying to reconnect with his daughter Kate played by Ella Purnell. It’s an interesting scene, and the writing adds layers to both characters. The problem is the editing rhythm is so wrong that instead of building the relationship it undercuts the revelations and emotional impact. It could have been a home run of a scene, but it just left me frustrated.

I can actually pinpoint the moment where the movie lost me. It involves spoilers so beware. Skip this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled. The first friend Scott recruits is Maria, played by Ana de la Reguera. After helping Scott assemble the team, she pretty much disappears from the movie until about an hour and a half into the runtime when she randomly pulls Scott aside. She expresses her frustration about him ignoring her. She implies that they had a relationship and that she still wants him. Scott is receptive to her advances. Then the zombies break in and snap her neck. Her bloody spinal column juts out grotesquely from her neck. Then the shooting starts and doesn’t stop for the next hour. They do this kind of thing for the rest of the movie. They give each character a moment then immediately kill them. They get to be a hero then die. It doesn’t matter how stupid the moment is or how little it has to do with their character. They get a moment then are destroyed in increasingly horrible ways. If I’m going to spend two and a half hours with these characters I want more than lip service and a slow mo bloody destruction. It feels cheap and nihilistic. Nothing matters. Everyone is basically already dead.

I can deal with cruelty. I can sit through an excessive runtime. Ugly cinematography sucks but I can put up with it. What I can’t tolerate is when characters are disregarded. There is no value placed on telling a story with these characters. They’re just used as vessels for violent destruction.

I know this movie will work really well for some people. I know the nihilism, the excess, the endless cruelty and zombie headshots will be exactly what some people are looking for. If that’s you, then this is your movie. It’s in theaters and streaming on Netflix. If this doesn’t sound like your movie skip it. you won’t regret skipping it.

Not my cup of tea. C

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