A brisk, bracing opening straight out of “The Stand,” only set to Elvis and Elvis covers, sets the tone.
“Army of the Dead” is going to be jaunty, and because there’s little new that can be done with zombies, that’s a good thing. More “Zombieland” than “World War Z,” probably the safe play.
But no sooner have I scribbled “Zack Snyder rediscovers his first, best destiny” in my notes than “Army of the Dead” grinds to an almost-complete halt. A stumbling, lurching narrative, long bursts of exposition — explaining this or that variation on a zombie theme — and a general lifelessness to every scene not involving slaughter condemn Snyder’s latest take on George A. Romero’s “Dead” to tedium.
It’s a heist picture with “the undead,” who have taken over Vegas (Hah!) and are about to be nuked. But there’s $200 million tax-free in a vault there, and only survivors of that zombie outbreak are desperate enough, and possess the necessary skills, to get in there and grab it for the Japanese oligarch (Hiroyuki Sanada) who stashed it in a vault and already collected the insurance on it.
“Easy peasy Japanesey,” he cracks.
The Medal of Freedom winner, a hero of the outbreak, who is now a short order cook is who the oligarch hires. Scott (Dave Bautista) could use the cash, as could everybody else he assembles for his “team” in the slowest, lamest “assemble my team” sequence in action film history.
Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Raúl Castillo, Theo Rossi, Nora Arnezeder, Garrett Dillahunt, Matthias Schweighöfer and Tig Notaro, play a collection of “types” who emphasize “inclusion” and action film cliches — the German safecracker, the Latino Reddit zombie-killer/influencer, the oligarch’s untrustworthy “security expert,” the lesbian chopper pilot/mechanic (Notaro) who can fly them out (cleverly recast and re-shot when the actor originally in the film tested positive for #MeToo violations).
Oh, and let’s not forget the daughter (Purnell) who never forgave Scott for shooting her mom/his wife when she went undead. She’s here to save a fellow detainee at the refugee camp where Vegas survivors are being held.
Yes, their presence in the camp has been totally politicized.
Notaro gives the picture a welcome if half-hearted comic touch as the team fights/schemes and bargains its way past the zombie subculture towards the twin towers — Sodom and Gomorrah — and their big payoff. No other supporting character is fleshed out enough to develop an impression.
Snyder, who first gained fame for his Romero reboot “Dawn of the Dead,” renames the undead a couple of things — “alphas” and “fast ones” and “shamblers” — and made a movie paced like the latter. This ungainly, overlong (Pilot for a TV series?) beast never gets on its feet and up to speed after that jaunty intro.
This is “Escape from New York” where nobody is cool enough to make us care, where the stakes are low and the pace is slower than slow.
A trio of screenwriters can’t find a clever line of dialogue to save their skins, so the score is peppered with Elvis and morose covers of “Bad Moon Rising,” “This Is the End,” etc. because that’s what we do in post-production to juice up the juiceless — “Forrest Gump” that sucker.
There’s little of the political subtext that gave earlier zombie pictures intellectual heft, no “Zombieland” whimsy, just gory deaths ever-so-slowly achieved, and soap operatic “Walking Dead” character dynamics.
“Tell me this isn’t some insane way to reconnect with your daughter!”
Maybe this is Zack Snyder’s “first, best destiny” as a filmmaker. But when he can’t even get through a formulaic zombie picture without crawling, maybe he was never destined to deserve final cut.
MPA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, gore and language throughout, some sexual content and brief nudity/graphic nudity
Cast: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Raúl Castillo, Theo Rossi, Nora Arnezeder, Garrett Dillahunt, Matthias Schweighöfer and Tig Notaro.
Credits: Directed and photographed by Zack Snyder, script by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:28