- Platform: Netflix
- Release Date: 21/05/2021
- Cast: Dave Bautista, Omari Hardwick, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias, Nora Arnezeder
- Director: Zack Snyder
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)
I was really excited for ‘Army of the Dead‘ for a plethora of reasons. I have always enjoyed Zack Snyder’s films no matter how much they have been panned by the critics. Even a film like Sucker Punch left me satisfied and panting for me. One of his best films to date still remains his first, Dawn of the Dead (2004). Just the thought of seeing the man return to the genre that made him the star that he is today was intriguing enough. From the very first trailers of the film, I got the clear indication that Netflix gave Zack Snyder 90 million dollars and the freedom to run wild with his imagination. We know what he is capable of when he is given the freedom to do his thing.
What is true with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is also true with Dave Bautista. These two men from the WWE have aged exceptionally well with time. The biggest surprise for me though was the fact that how good they have got with their acting skills. They were always interesting to look at and had all that it took to be the iconic action stars that they were but now these two men were able to extract genuine emotions through their rendering of various characters. Thus the presence of Dave Bautista in this film, in many ways added to its credibility also elevated its possibility of making the audience care for the characters. That in turn increased my interest in the film further.
Last but not the least; I have always enjoyed two genres of filmmaking when it is done well —Zombie apocalypse (Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Train to Busan) and Heist (Inside Man, Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven). This film looked liked like a mishmash of both the genres and going by what I saw in the trailer, it also felt like it had healthy servings of action with a dependable action star flexing his muscles. Thus Army of the Dead quickly became a film that I was counting days for it to release in a month that has brought nothing more than sadness, loss, and boredom to the entire nation.
The film is about a group of people led by Scott Ward (Bautista) who previously saw the city of Las Vegas fall to a Zombie Apocalypse when a freak accident lets loose a test subject on the unsuspecting population of the town. Ward and the men in his team somehow make it out of the town after incurring heavy financial and emotional losses and have been living a quiet life ever since. A shady Businessman, Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) interests Ward in a mission to go back into a dilapidating Vegas and retrieve a cache of 200 million dollars from a destroyed Casino. In return, he is promised a hefty reward of 50 million dollars. Ward, who is evidently frustrated with his current existence takes on the mission and enters the city to realize that he was about to get a lot more than he had bargained for. The fact that Tanaka is executing a parallel mission that Ward is not aware of only makes matters that much more difficult for him. What happens next forms the crux of the story.
Army of the Dead is at its strongest when its sticks to the basic plot point. The portion involving the team and its foray into Las Vegas is highly entertaining. I just loved what Zack Snyder did with the zombies and the various new elements that he added to the creatures that will come as a surprise to many. The heist element of the story also works well as we see the stakes of the mission rise with every minute of the storytelling. The money is not all that easy to get. The team has to go through a series of risks and interesting scenarios to finally get their hands on the cash. All this is done well. Snyder also justifies the zombies attacking Ward and his men by adding an extra element to the story that in itself serves as a twist in the plot.
The action of the film is perverse and brutal. It is also one of the most in-your-face actions that we have experienced in a while. The fact that most of the actors are good in their rendering of these action sequences and Snyder makes some creative choices that are in the best interest of the action sequences ensures that the audiences have a great time with the action of the film. I also enjoyed the look and feel of the film and while many will question the extremely shallow depth of field that Snyder goes for, I felt that it helped add to the beauty of the visuals and also blinded the audiences from anything and everything that was inconsequential to a particular sequence.
What was even more surprising for me was the fact that a character of the film was almost entirely shot against the green screen and added to the film much later. This character feels better and more quirky than many of the original cast and the rendering of this character is almost impossible to find fault with.
Having said all that, the film falters in almost everything else that it tries to do with its characters, their backstories, and most importantly, the subplots. I felt that that subplot involving Ward’s daughter and her side quest to rescue an inconsequential and irritating Huma Qureshi from the clasp of the zombies was one of the biggest bores and irritations of the film. It took up a lot of time and applied the brakes on an otherwise briskly moving unit. Also, it felt too pedestrian in terms of logic, inspiration, and drama to make any impact whatsoever.
The portion involving Bautista – Ella Purnell and the story of their relationship falling apart after Bautista is forced to kill someone he loves dearly is generic and somewhat irritating. It feels like a subplot that is put in the film just so that the audiences could be made to take the protagonist as more than just a killing machine and throw some emotional weight behind the character. It doesn’t work and the primary reason for that is the highly irritating Ella Purnell. Not only is the rendering of her character triggering, but that the character is written so poorly that it is bound to get on your nerves from the get-go. Snyder should also be held accountable for giving different characters in the film traits that we are sure he will exploit later for dramatic impact but he shuns them completely in moments of maddening mediocrity. This is something that is bound to hurt the ego of the egotistic audience for treating them with such less regard in terms of expectation management. Army of the Dead will be the most enjoyable when it is taken as nothing more than a dumb and bloated summer blockbuster that should be forgotten once the viewing is over. It has its moments of brilliance but they are too few and too far apart to make this an instantly uplifting experience. The film should have been a lot shorter and its protagonist should have been someone with no strings attached. That would have instantly made it a better film.