“Viva Las Vegas!”
Dir. Zack Snyder
Runtime: 148 minutes
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
After being stuck in production Hell for a long while, 2021 finally sees Zack Snyder release his second zombie film; “Army of the Dead”. This is not a sequel or follow up to his directorial debut film, a remake of “Dawn of the Dead” (2004), this is its own film with no links other than having zombies in it. Well – I say “no links” by stylistically there are a few, like the opening sequences which both featured a Richard Cheese cover song. Snyder worked in at least 6 roles while putting this film together, but most people will just settle for knowing that he wrote the story and screenplay, and he directed this Zombie Crime Action film. A Netflix original film, this was made with an estimated budget of over $70 million and promised to be 2021’s summer blockbuster. It’s not quite “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960 or 2001), nor “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) – but somewhere in between if you add in a group of gun-toting mercenaries in a war zone like environment, dealing with zombies and pulling off a heist.
Rich former casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his assistant/head of security/associate Martin (Garret Dillahunt) hire a former mercenary, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), to go into the cordoned off city of Las Vegas to recover $200 million from a casino vault before a Presidentially ordered nuclear strike burns the city to the ground. Las Vegas became a zombie infested city after a an accident which saw cargo being transported from Area 51, that cargo just happened to be a super zombie (origins unknown). After getting loose, it tore through Las Vegas killing and infecting everyone. Despite many attempts, the army and special mercenaries were only able to rescue pockets of people and the final decision was to cordon off the city. Zombies are locked in, and people are kept out. Scott Ward and his team were some of the last people to get out of the city, and he has bad memories – but with a handsome payday on offer, he’s happy to consider going back in.
Ward recruits a team to go in and get the job done. The team includes former team-mates including Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), and Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), as well as some specially selected people – Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), and Chambers (Samantha Win). There are some complications with the team though as Tanaka’s Martin associate tags along. But he is not the only one; Ward’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who is determined to find/rescue a somebody that was helped inside by a smuggler tags along too. As does the smuggler herself, Lily (Nora Arnezeder), who we be an asset to get them in. She also brings a security guard called Burt (Theo Rossi) who has recently proven himself to be a royal A-hole.
Once inside they see different types of zombie ranging from “alpha’s” and “shamblers“, to a zombie tiger, a zombie horse, a zombie queen (Athena Perample), and patient zero – King Zeus (Richard Cetrone) – who caused the problems at the start of the film. Finding the safe containing $200 million is one thing, getting into it another complication, but when Martin has his own agenda, and Kate goes missing, the money isn’t as important as survival. It wouldn’t be Vegas without the stakes getting raised so add in the fact that some of the zombies are organised and can communicate. Then the stakes are raised even more when the tactical nuclear strike timeline gets brought forward – the team have even less time to get the job done and escape, if the zombies don’t get them first!
A summary in 180 characters or less…
A team of mercenary go into the zombie infested Las Vegas to rob a casino. Their timer is a nuclear strike. Shit hit’s the fan!
I enjoyed “Army of the Dead”, it isn’t the greatest heist film I’ve watched, nor would I consider it the greatest zombie film I’ve seen either – and, in case you wondering, this isn’t the first zombie/heist film I’ve ever watched either, but at least this is better than “Dead Heist” (2007). This is a good looking, fast paced, action film, which works well for a night in with beer and popcorn. There are plenty of typical Snyder visuals in the film, such as an abundance of slow-motion shots. You’ll also find lots of Easter eggs, homages, tributes, and doffing of the cap to other films that came before this. I can name a good handful of films that were paid homage to in one way of another, including: “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), “Escape from New York” (1981), “Planet of the Apes” (1968), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Apocalypse Now“(1979), “The Thing” (1982), “Excalibur” (1981), “Aliens” (1986), “Die Hard” (1988), “Star Wars” (1977), “The Terminator” (1984) – and that’s before you compare consider zombie films or video games (Did you see “Left 4 Dead” or “Zombie Army 4“?) ! Keep your eyes open, it’s fun.
While you are keeping your eyes open looking for other films, look out for the Easter Eggs – UFO’s in the sky above Area 51/Las Vegas, the sound of the Millenium Falcon’s hyper-drive matched to the helicopter, the hidden “Justice League: The Snyder Cut” (2021) reels hidden in the casino vault. As well as the visuals there are a lot of conceptional questions asked, the kind which keep film fans up at night, and the kind that perpetrate the internet rumour mill. “Was that a robot zombie from the future, an Area 51 experiment gone wrong, or are the zombies smart enough to make robots?” or even “Are the events part of a time-loop or multiverse – has it all happened before?” – I didn’t pay too much attention to these kinds of things and just enjoyed the film.
The cast was good and its nice to see Dave Bautista getting a run out as the main star of the film after his last big solo-role in “Final Score” (2018). The rest of the acting cast members all do well playing the characters they’ve been assigned to, and I was happy to buy into their performances in the roles they were given. I particularly enjoyed Omari Hardwick as Vanderohe, and Matthias Schweighöfer as Dieter. They were a bit of an odd pairing, and according to reports they didn’t get much time together before the film, but still they had a little bit of fun chemistry by the end of their roles. I can see Ella Purnell having a long career, although I didn’t enjoy her character much – something that’s down to the writing and not her portrayal of course.
Despite starting the film thinking that some of the characters might annoy me I was pleasantly surprised by the end of the film that I wasn’t shouting (too much) at them for doing something stupid (for most of them anyway – Kate on the other hand, Ward daughter, she managed to annoyed me. But it seems I was not alone there if other internet reviews are anything to go by). While the actors did well in their roles, the characters they were portraying weren’t all brilliantly written though. There wasn’t much character development and some of characters were really predictable – after the first 20 minutes of the film, my wife, who doesn’t normally spot these kind of things suggested that Martin was going to double-cross the group. She also suggested that Kate would do something stupid and get lots of people killed. SPOILER ALERT – she was right, it did happened the way she suggested. The writing wasn’t completely all that original, but then there has to be some formuleac situations in the film to drive it on I guess – especially in genre specific films like this (There has to be a stupid event to put people in danger. There has tension of the safe not opening). After reading that Tig Notaro was digitally inserted into the film to replace Chris D’Elia I was slightly impressed. Visually I wouldn’t have been able to tell, and even on a second viewing I struggled to see it obviously – it wasn’t like a Superman moustache situation, it worked well.
Like any film there are a load of plot holes, cliches, and recycled tropes in this film – Where is Geetha – no seriously, where is Geetha, or maybe why is Geetha? Why did they leave the doors to Las Vegas open and why didn’t any random zombies shuffle out? How did the Queen get pregnant? How can somebody with no weapons training shoot running zombies perfectly in the head at range but miss point blank shots? If there is a zombie tiger and a zombie horse, are there zombie fleas and rats – if so, where? Why didn’t Chambers warn Guzman about Martin after she escaped his set up? How does Kate survive the helicopter crash without any damage? When did Vanderohe become nuclear-proof and how does he get into another state before noticing he’s been bitten, when everyone ‘turns’ in a matter of minutes? For that matter, when did he actually get bitten?
So – is this the zombie film to beat all zombie films then? No sorry. It is a good zombie film, in a way it’s a good heist film too… and likewise it’s a good Snyder film – but this is not the best thing since sliced bread though. I enjoyed the film; it looked good and it was indeed a blood and bullets action film to enjoy on a Friday or Saturday night. Visual effects, special effects, and cinematography all painted lovely aesthetics. I didn’t have to use my brain much and was able to just sit and enjoy the film. If you don’t read too much into it and try to over-analyse it, this is a good beer and popcorn film. I am sure it will divide audiences, but when you have seen as many bad films as I have, then you’ll agree it’s a lot better then them – but equally, it’s not a masterpiece. Therefore I’m giving this a nice 7 out of 10.