'Army Of The Dead' (2021) Review: Roll of the Dice
Making a movie in a beloved genre is a tricky thing. Mostly because those genres come with a set of rules. Depending on how you view it, these rules can be a beneficial guide, or a restricting hindrance. Adhere too closely to the rules, and you’re making something done before. Bad movie. Drift too far away, and you end up disqualifying the film from any association with the genre. Good movie, bad attempt at the genre. Most of this depends entirely on how exposed the viewer is. Every film is someone’s first after all. It depends then on what the movie wants to do. Will it add to what’s come before? Subvert expectations? Or simply make another entertaining movie in a familar space.
Some genres are more established than others, and can develop tropes as a result of the many films in their purview. For Zack Snyder’s ‘Army of the Dead’, the risk is two fold. Being both a zombie movie and a heist movie, the expectations surrounding the film are already working against it. Then again, maybe by mixing the two together, you get the best of both worlds like a cinematic fry in a milkshake.
At the outset, this tale of two genres has a pretty distinct tone. Soldiers codenamed the four horsemen travel with an unspecified truckload. The little we know is that it’s valuable but dangerous. The soldiers leading the caravan are distracted by the possibilities of their cargo, So much so that they miss the speeding car with two reckless newlyweds from Las Vegas careening towards them. A crash ensues and it’s revealed that the convoy is transporting a superhuman creature with an infectious bite, intent on either consumption or creation of its own army of the dead.
So, a horrific apocalyptic prelude, a comical interruption, surrounded by relatable human interaction with curious soldiers and sex crazed newlyweds. As an opener, it sets the stage for what you’re about to see. ‘Army of the Dead’ not only mixes genres but tones as well. It further establishes itself with a distinctly Snyder slow mo sequence with the subsequent unholy outbreak in the city of lights. Terror in the streets depicted in the gnashing of teeth tearing into limbs, set against a cacophony of Elvis impersonators, exotic dancers, and the most colourful imagery Vegas has to offer. 20 minutes in you’ll be able to tell if you’re with ‘Army of the Dead’ or not.
From that point on the film has a balancing act of complementing its conflicting elements, or undercutting them, tiptoeing between being a jack of all genres, or, being a master of none. The film has moments that feel obligatory but nevertheless fun in their execution. Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward has to round up his crew of highly efficient and ruthless mercenaries, followed by a safe cracking civilian, and a financially insecure pilot. It’s a sequence that Snyder himself just recently espoused as Batman assembled his Justice League. It’s been done before, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. You get to know the characters quickly, and can get to the meat of the matter that much quicker.
The heist is simple. As the United States prepares a controlled nuclear explosion, the evacuated outskirts of the infected area will be without supervision. It’s the perfect time to abscond with the $200 Million sitting in a vault in a casino basement. The crew needs to get in, get the cash, and get out, without being bitten in the process. Simple, but every heist has its complications. The film has its fair share. Some are tired tropes, like the duplicitous member of the crew clearly on a frolic of their own. Others are distinctively different, such as the undead Tiger with half a face. You never know what you’re going to get.
The film further continues its clashing methodology, continuing with pitting character against plot. Moments of urgency are undercut by the characters insistence on dealing with their issues right at the time of an explosive situation. Declarations of love occur minutes away from total extinction, and you’re left wondering if the characters simply forgot about what was happening. None of this seems to matter though as you marvel at the film’s visuals. The Zombie king walking down the hall of his creations, adorned with a bulletproof helmet and a spear. It’s not the kind of thing you see every day, and for that, you feel compelled to forgive the film’s rapid fire shifts.
In its two hours and twenty minutes, ‘Army of the Dead’ ranges from exhilarating to frustrating, sometimes in record time. You will be impressed with its visual fidelity and compelling performances, yet puzzled by its inconsistent pacing and corny dialogue. As it’s trying to be so much, it’s hard to say if the film is making a statement about the futility of identity, or simply suffering an identity crisis. It manages to succeed as both a zombie film and a heist film, leaning into, rather than shying away from, the most cliched elements of either genre. At the same time, it seems to revel in taking the viewer on a discordant journey, to varying results. By its end, you’re left with the same decision you made after it’s opening montage. You’re either with it or you’re not.
Rating: Half Price