The film boasts technical finesse, impressive set pieces, and trademark Snyder action but it fails in terms of uneven storytelling, and more
Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s spiritual 17-year-old successor to his first foray into the zombie genre. It is a love letter to what could have been. But while Dawn of the Dead (DOTD) told a brutal story of its survivors trying to survive in the aftermath of an apocalypse. AOTD feels like a hollow follow-up. We have broken down the movie into three broad categories – the good, the bad, the mythology that enables it to stand apart as an above-average film.
The Bad – Stretched Social Commentary
Snyder tries to kill too many birds in a bush with his script– something that he attempts to do in the spirit of legendary director George A. Romero, but which also slows down the story. Snyder’s use of social commentary feels forced and often runs opposite the forward-moving rag-tag extraction team. This makes the pacing extremely odd in a few places.
For example, the opening sequence of the movie sets the scene for an army convoy transporting a high-value payload – a zombie Alpha (faster and more intelligent zombies). The convoy ends in a fireball collision which leads to the Alpha escaping and wreaking havoc on Las Vegas. The pace is synonymous with any fast-paced horror action thriller and is trademark Snyder.
Watch: Army of the Dead | Official Trailer | Netflix
But from the start, Snyder’s commentary is about decline – not just of the glittering strip – the Las Vegas Boulevard – but of the American excess. And the short-stop measures the government uses to contain the virus. This is conveyed through a fantastic glittering montage, chockful of the outbreak, the demise of the sin city’s performers, side acts and go-go girls, and the army’s use of force in walling the city.
We are also introduced to the characters – who have had previous shot at the undead – the Shamblers (read normal zombies) in another extraction. The scene is set – the audience is ready to be wowed with what’s in store in Vegas.
This is all ok – if it were not for the snail’s pace backstories that Snyder chooses to straggle on.
There’s the father-daughter rift of Scott (Dave Bautista) and Kate Ward (Ella Purnell), with a worn-down Scott. Who trying to make amends for a previous debacle where he plunges a knife into the skull of Kate’s then turned mother. There’s the refugee (in Snyder’s words) commentary where Geeta (Huma Qureshi) is smuggled into Vegas to retrieve cash to escape the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city.
These stories could have been done without, giving ample time to really focus on the conflict and survival of our protagonists. Towards the end of the movie, these feel like under-developed side stories that are never really explained. Apart from Zeus’ plan to build a progeny of zombie babies as shown in the interaction between him and his zombie queen. To be honest, Geeta’s role is fairly useless!
Had the script focused completely on a break-neck telling of the heist – like one Max Rockantansky in the epic revival Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie would have been much shorter, crisper and packed a hell of a punch!
The reference to mythology is strewn across the movie, never really culminating into anything significant. Starting with the main Alpha being named Zeus; the hotel named Olympus; the characters having to navigate a dark labyrinth of slumbering Shamblers. It all feels like Easter eggs included by the director to bring a false sense of ‘epicness’ to the script.
Wagner’s Gotterdamerung – or the ‘twilight of the gods’ is another forced reference, albeit the only logical one that keeps the key storyline intact – the extraction of the cash from the casino vault under Olympus. Snyder’s storytelling always skirts the mythos and misses out an opportunity to confidently build a coherent narrative.
Although it’s not all bad – even while sounding a bit frayed, the Gotterdamerung is the swansong. The opening of the safe is reminiscent of the legends of old gods and their hidden agendas. With the opening of the safe, the team is also at the mercy of the zombie horde. Snyder’s commentary is sensed again in the swan-song climax where their escape is shot on Olympus’ casino floor – a vision of excess, greed, lust and finally death.
The Good – Technical Execution
Like we said before – this movie is a love letter to Snyder’s vision of what he could have achieved with DOTD. And it’s a good thing he didn’t – whereas, in DOTD, he focuses on storytelling, Snyder takes a more hands-on role in AOTD. By playing the part of director and director of photography. As he reflects in the making of “Creating an Army of the Dead”, “I really appreciated this kind of world, where you could have fun but not make fun, you could genre bust but be self-aware, but never wink at the camera.”
Watch: Zack Snyder and Dave Bautista on Making Army of the Dead
The team’s recreation of the Vegas strip as a combination of actual rubble, LIDAR data and 3d model, is a technical marvel. Snyder’s team is able to seamlessly integrate practical and digital VFX to bring the sheer scale of the city into the movie’s set-piece. In Snyder’s words, it looks like a “…giant haunted mansion.” The iconic landmarks of the strip remain and are great at conveying a past of glamour and glitz.
Another win is the process of recreating the zombies – hiring thousands of extras for zombies was simply not possible – the scale is much larger than what Snyder was working within DOTD which largely takes place inside a mall. The opening sequence in which jets carpet-bomb the mass of zombies that have taken over the Vegas strip was achieved with only a set of 106 extras, replicated over and over again. A motion capture setup was used to feed information on zombie movements into the special effects system and recreated multiple zombie hordes with ease. The set design and makeup don’t need any explanation – it’s done to perfection and would make Romero proud.
A Snyder helmed project with respect to the visual spectacle is never disappointing. This is what has propelled the director to a cult and box-office status with his renditions of 300, Justice League and the like. But his latest venture, which is described as a subverting of the zombie genre, just doesn’t quite cut it. The action and story have a heart, but it’s lost in the uneven pacing, mixed symbolism and dead-end subplots that Snyder decides to insert into the final piece.
This article is contributed by Debabrat Sukla