WHAT I LIKED: Stylistically, Zack Snyder is a director who leers over everything and turns even the smallest things into moments of ultimate pornographic coolness whilst relying on heavy, overt symbolism to do his storytelling. I've criticised him for that a lot, as in most of his films, it's all generally in service of some intended, self-serious thematic depth that isn't there, and hollow characters that seem more like symbols than real people.
Thanks to the simple high-concept narrative of his latest 'Army of the Dead,' though, all that is instead in service of a bunch of tongue-in-cheek humour and atmospheric development which flips his style from being irritating, into something you can smile at and - I'm shocked that I'm saying this - enjoy.
The film kicks off not with a scene whose sole purpose is to look cool or to drive some pseudo-profound point home, but to build genuine tension. A team of soldiers are transporting an unknown body across the Nevada desert, whilst a young man is driving towards them being given a blowjob (yes, this is a Snyder film, what more could you expect), so they inevitably collide and release a plague of zombies onto Las Vegas. The opening credits is then a hilarious montage of the undead consuming Elvis impersonators, strippers and all manner of local folk to the tune of Viva Las Vegas, and after we've witnessed a few of the later central characters losing loved ones and the city being closed off, the simple premise of the film is revealed.
A ragtag group of soldiers are tasked with retrieving a sum of money from a casino vault before the whole city is nuked by the government, and the whole thing then plays out like the maddest horror heist you've ever seen. The script has them brilliantly encounter zombies in the most unexpected and clever of scenarios, and experience loss after loss, but it's actually the way Snyder directs the action which means you're always on the edge of your seat. I was half expecting that once we got inside the city perimeter, it'd be non-stop shooting zombies in slow-motion, but there's a surprising amount of simple, slow-build anxiety between the shoot-outs that keeps you on the edge of your seat. There's a particularly stressful scene where they have to sneak through a group of them 'hybernating,' and another where one team have to rather amusingly set off a few booby traps using a zombie to break into the safe.
Beyond that, there's even some genuine moments of character-development to invest you emotionally in the success of the mission, as whilst most of the team are just fun caricatures, Bautista's team leader (who had to kill his wife and whose estranged daughter ends up joining them) is a genuinely interesting, very human soul who learns a little about himself and his relationships along the way. There are even some touching, emotional moments towards the end where you can almost feel Snyder behind the camera marvelling at the fact he's taking the time to film some genuine performances, and we're marvelling along with him too.
All in all, that makes for what is undoubtedly Snyder's best film since his similarly goofy 'Dawn of the Dead,' remake, as it utilises his stylistic tendencies in service of humour and tension, with a smattering of actual character developmen to boot.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There is a whiff of the pseudo-profound in some dialogue choices, and in the fact that the establishment are imprisoning refugees in everyone's fear of them being infected and measuring their temperatures to check (oh how very Covid), but to be honest that's really not the driving force of the narrative. It's just dumb fun, and it does its job pretty well.
VERDICT: A film that puts Snyder's pornographic sensibilities in service of a simple, atmospheric and often highly amusing set of scenarios, 'Army of the Dead,' is the first Snyder film I've really enjoyed since his debut.