Have to say… I was looking forward to seeing this film.
While I’m one of those nut-cases that defended -and continue to defend- Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman despite so many hate-hate-hating the film, I kinda loved it, especially in its Extended/Director’s Cut (truly, that version made the theatrical cut unnecessary).
Having said that, I’m not a Zack Snyder uber-fan. In total and before seeing the above film, I’ve seen a grand total of two of his films start to end: Dawn of the Dead and Batman v Superman. I’m well aware of his other films, including Man of Steel, the film that led to BvS, as well as the very recently released Zack Snyder’s Justice League, his version of the infamous film which has received quite good reviews. I intend to see that later film as soon as possible.
Regardless, I was a little more curious to see Army of the Dead and, voila!, that’s what I’ve done.
Army of the Dead, a Netflix exclusive film, was released yesterday and I wound up seeing it in two sittings. It is a long film and, frankly, with one hour of it left yesterday, my poor (increasingly) old body wasn’t up to catching the full thing as night was closing in and I was very tired.
Lest you think otherwise, though, I would have sat through the whole thing if I had the energy.
It was quite good!
Here’s the movie’s trailer:
Army of the Dead brings director Zack Snyder back to the “zombie” genre he had so much success with in his first feature film, the remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
I recall when word came out that he was remaking it people thought it sacrilege: How could anyone dare to remake what is probably the all time best zombie film ever made? (I know, I know… there are those who think Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s first zombie film, is his best… I think it, along with Day of the Dead, are both incredibly good, but Dawn IMHO is his very best)
Incredibly, Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn (yes, the very same James Gunn that would go on to make Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Suicide Squad film) did the near impossible: Create a film that touches upon George Romero’s classic -at least with regard to the movie’s setting- yet goes down its own fascinating path.
And that opening sequence…!
Fast forward to yesterday and, as I said, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead is released and once again we’re back to those darn zombies.
First though: Army of the Dead (let’s call it AotD from now on, ok?) is not a direct sequel to Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.
While it does feature zombies, the cause of their appearance and the setting is vastly different from the end of the world scenario presented in Dawn of the Dead.
AotD’s plot goes like this: Las Vegas gets a zombie infection, is closed off (a la Escape From New York) and, maybe a few years later (or a little less), a very rich Japanese businessman approaches Scott Ward (Dave Bautista, quite good) one of the “heroes” of the Las Vegas evacuation who helped save many others, including a VIP right as it was closing off, to “break into” Las Vegas (again, a la Escape From New York) to get to a vault in one of the city’s buildings and steal back some 200 million dollars in it. He stands to claim $50 million of it and split it however he wants with his crew.
Tempting though the offer is, Ward, who turns out to be suffering PTSD from the events of the evacuation of Las Vegas and has nightmares and visions, including the death of his wife, of that time, isn’t willing to say yes right away. Though he’s working in a greasy hamburger joint and is estranged from his daughter and could use the money, it takes him a full day to agree to the job and gets his old crew together for it.
But Ward is no amateur: He knows there’s more here than meets the eye and doesn’t trust his employer at all.
Among the old group he gets together are Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick), safecracker Dieter (Mathias Shweighofer), and helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro). But as the group is about to leave, they’re thrown a curve: the billionaire who hired them insists one of his security men, Martin (Garrett Dillahunt), accompany them.
Further complicating things a little later on is that Ward needs his estranged daughter, Kate’s (Ella Purnell) help to get them into Las Vegas because she’s a volunteer at a shelter just outside the city and that, in turns, leads them to Lilly the Coyote (Nora Amezeder) who knows just how to do this but may not have the group’s best intentions in mind.
Each and every one of the actors are damn good in their respective roles and a further note should be made regarding the ingenuity of Zack Snyder with regard to Tig Notaro’s role.
For those unaware, the film was completely shot with comedian Chris D’Elia in the helicopter pilot role. However, after the filming was complete serious sexual misconduct accusations were leveled against Mr. D’Elia and Zack Snyder chose to scrub the comedian from the film. He was digitally replaced, in post production, with Tig Notaro (you can read more about that here).
While the end product isn’t completely seamless, it is damn close and Notaro’s interactions with the cast -which she never had!- work an incredible 99% of the time. In fact, there was only one occasion where I felt it was obvious she and the others weren’t acting against each other and that was the very first scene where Ward and Maria Cruz meet and recruit Notaro’s Marianne Peters. That was the one, and only scene, where it felt obvious their performances were pierced together.
Incredible end result, truly!
So the various characters eventually make their moves and more intrigue forces compromises -I won’t spoil everything!- to their group. Once they do make their entry into Las Vegas, the zombie plague they expected to find isn’t quite what many thought it would be and the zombies may not be completely brainless murderers after all.
AotD, to its great credit, doesn’t fully take itself seriously. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek elements and humorous interplay along with the serious -and at times gory- elements. The last hour/climax of the film, in particular, left me pretty breathless but that worked so well because the buildup made me care for what happened to the various characters in the end.
Still, there were little things here and there that annoyed me, particularly Mr. Snyder’s use of out of focus frames here and there. I know he gets a lot of grief for using too much slow motion -he really didn’t do so here- but this time around he seemed enamored with doing these hazy out of focus shots and, at times, they were perhaps a little too much.
The film is also quite long, clocking in at 2 and a half hours and maybe some might consider that a little too much. There’s a CODA as well that, for me, maybe was better left either on the cutting room floor or after the credits rather than in the film proper.
But that’s just me!
Regardless, if you’re in the mood for some good action/suspense and aren’t too burned out with the zombie genre, AotD is a perfect time killer.
I’ve been intrigued to see the various comments from people regarding this film, mostly very negative.
Over on rottentomatoes.com, Army of the Dead is currently earning a very good 70% positive among critics and a 76% positive among audiences.
And yet… I see plenty of online posts in the various blogs and places I visit with people quite literally wondering why anyone would like the film.
One of the bigger criticisms I see involves the character of Martin who joins the team at the last minute and works for the billionaire who hired them originally. To everyone -including the members of the team- he clearly has an agenda of his own, and later in the film we find out that the money the billionaire claims to want to recover is not as important as getting the head/blood of one of the uber-zombies.
Later in the film he, along with the “Coyote”, capture the female uber-zombie and he decapitates her, taking her head with him at that point.
However, these people point out, early in the film they first encounter the female zombie and her companion, and he could have captured her then and taken off, leaving the others to get the money on their own.
I suppose… but…
This was early in the film and Martin had yet to have any interaction with the Coyote character and, like everyone else, wasn’t as sure of the so-called “lay of the land” within Las Vegas. Because of that, attacking her at that point might have resulted in a really big attack on them.
So, yes, I can see why he didn’t act at that point and it wasn’t such a huge plot hole to me as some feel it is.
Regardless, there are those who feel the film was terrible even without this particular issue. They feel the film was either too slow or too long. Both criticisms, IMHO, are certainly valid to these individuals. The film is 2 and 1/2 hours long and I can certainly see people becoming anxious for it to move along. For me, this too wasn’t such a big bother.
Another criticism is that the movie’s ending is too much of a downer, that (SPOILERS!!!!!) all these characters die out so quickly at the very end.
This I kinda don’t understand.
Zombie films, especially those by George Romero, tend to end on a very downbeat nature and with most of the main cast annihilated. Thus, people we’ve come to like generally tend to not make it to the end. Further, this is also a heist film, and if you’ve seen many of them, they don’t always follow the lighthearted pattern of an Ocean’s 11 (the original or remake). In fact, more often than not these films are about not only the heist, but the disintegration of the team after said heist. Often, characters are double crossed or captured and/or killed before they can spend their ill-gotten gains.
I’m talking about films like The Anderson Tapes or The Killing or The Brinks Job.
So, again, not much of an issue for me.
Elsewhere, I found it interesting when I interacted with someone over on i09.com and s/he noted that perhaps because we are dealing with a Zack Snyder film, there is a certain amount of baggage inherent in people’s reaction to it, not unlike they have a certain reaction to the works of J. J. Abrams or Michael Bay.
It seems to me this may be a valid issue, at least with some people’s reactions out there, but I doubt it has to do with the vast majority of the negative reviews I spotted.
Understand: To me, people’s opinions are just that. What may work for me may not for you and vice versa and therefore I take people’s criticisms at face value and try not to look beyond it at possible agendas that may -or may not!- be there.
Still, its intriguing how many people had a very negative reaction to what I thought was a decent action/suspense film!