'Army of the Dead' review: Zack Snyder's roller coaster zombie fest slowed down by sentimentality

There's a time and a place for emotional storylines, and it's not during a film about bloody-thirsty zombies and impending nuclear annihilation

ARMY OF THE DEAD (Pictured) DAVE BAUTISTA as SCOTT WARD in ARMY OF THE DEAD. Cr. CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021
Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars

Zack Snyder returns as director for the first time since his troubled stint at the helm of Justice League with Netflix-powered heist thriller Army of the Dead.

All the classic tropes of the genre are here – the gang of loveable rogues led by an amiable-but-flawed hero, the impenetrable safe that only a socially awkward genius can crack, the stylised early exposition as Mr Big walks the thieves and the audience alike through how things should (but inevitably won't) turn out, and the hordes of marauding zombies.

OK, so it's not an entirely traditional heist yarn, and these aren't entirely traditional zombies.

In a nutshell, Dave Bautista's mercenary Scott Ward is charged by a mysterious millionaire with assembling a team to enter walled-off, zombie-infested Las Vegas and liberate a couple of hundred million dollars from the vaults of a casino. The team has only hours to complete the job before the US government nukes the city, putting a very final end to the long-running "zombie wars".

Snyder seems to revel in being freed from the shackles of the DC Universe he has become synonymous with. As the opening credits roll, we're treated to scenes that have more in common with the self-mocking opening scenes of the Deadpool films than the director's brooding DC outings.

Liberace is devoured by his dancers and elite special forces parachute helplessly into the arms of hungry flesh-eaters, all against a garish backdrop of neon-pink titles that lets us know from the outset that we probably shouldn’t take the next couple of hours too seriously.

That's not to say the film doesn't have serious points. The use of temperature guns to identify and quarantine the infected has a very current feel, while the proportion of immigrants and ethnic minorities making up the population of quarantine camps is clearly not coincidental.

ARMY OF THE DEAD (L to R) ZACK SNYDER (DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, WRITER) in ARMY OF THE DEAD. Cr. CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021

Like his hero George A Romero, however (Snyder's feature debut was a remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead in 2004), the politics are never in your face.

Where Snyder does perhaps misjudge is in his insistence on giving the film needless emotive subplots that jar with the overall tone and offer little to what should be a non-stop roller coaster of exploding brains.

We already have zombies, safecracking and impending nuclear annihilation to digest. Do we really need to be troubled with Ward's complicated relationship with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell)? Or the incomplete exploration of his past dalliances with his sidekick Maria (Ana de la Reguera)?

There's a time and a place for sentimentality, and slaying zombies in a post-apocalyptic Vegas isn't either.

Snyder isn't renowned for keeping his films brief, and next to his recent four-hour cut of Justice League, the two-and-a-half-hour Army of the Dead is short, but there is an overriding sense that if his editors had convinced him to go easy on the family drama in favour of simple zombie carnage, the film would be leaner and meaner than the entertaining romp it already is.

Army of the Dead is on Netflix from Friday, May 21

Army of the Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera

Three stars