Like a Zombie, ‘Army of the Dead’ is Mindless, Sometimes Fun

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – If you’ve ever worked retail or in the service industry, you’re aware of the mental and physical state lovingly known as “Cruise Control”. That’s when the crippling monotony of everyday life forces our body into a sort of energy-saver setting that is meant to keep us from having psychotic mental breaks on a semi-regular basis. A sort-of zombie mode, if you will. That is why, for some primal and subconscious reason, zombie films continue to be popular. The mythology established, along with the social and political commentary often present, keep the genre fresh, or as fresh as decomposing corpse can be at least. Zack Snyder revisits the world of zombies with his latest music video turned movie, Army of the Dead, where we encounter things like aliens, androids and zombie tigers… oh my!

You read me correctly, all of the above can be found in this film. Does it make sense? No, not in the least. Is it still fun to watch? Like a high-speed chase on live television. Snyder wrote, directed, and even created the story for Army of the Dead, which all makes sense in its own nonsensical way. He always places a high emphasis on the cinematic quality of his work. It has beautiful cinematography and is expertly choreographed. Every shot has a purpose and a flow that leans more towards pageantry than film, like a well-executed dance recital. The way he milks every scene, slowing down the pacing and the passage of time, is both a wondrous sight to witness and a terror to sit through. A fight sequence that would take 5 minutes in real time is artfully extended to 3 times that amount. Snyder often tries to channel the epics of old in his filmmaking style, but every minute of his over-extended runtimes are felt by the audience, not because they lack any visual element but because they tend to lack the narrative substance to back them up.

Photo credit: Netflix

Our journey begins as most disaster films usually do, with a great military fuck up. After a brief appearance of UFOs, patient zero escapes a compromised holding container and begins infecting all of Sin City in a montage reminiscent of Snyder’s previous (and superior) zombie offering Dawn of the Dead. Patient zero, who is clearing donning some military issued, ill-fitting camouflage cargo pants and some dog tags, is given no back story. In fact, this film says to hell with any backstory as it glides through establishing the close relationship between our characters and their damaged history in the length of a song. Ironic that the part where tike slowing down would have benefitted the story as a whole is also the part that felt the most rushed. Usually, I would welcome this change because more or less, every zombie apocalypse plays cinematically the same way, but in this case, it compromised any chance of emotional development early on.

Like a corpse that’s been floating in a lake for a while, this runtime is beyond bloated. This is only apparent because the exposition of the story starts rushed and then meanders until you reach the highly unsatisfying ending. We all have that one friend who begins telling a story, and then 4 unrelated tangents later arrive at the conclusion, only to leave us more confused than when we started. There are elements, such as the UFOs, some kind of robots, allusions to Greek mythology, and even a potential time loop/cloning situation (or simulation) a la Resident Evil: Retribution happening here, and I can say all this without it being a spoiler because not a single bit of it is ever explained. I’ve already spent more time covering it in this review than Snyder spent on developing it in the film. Now fanboys, before you start demanding the Snyder Cut of this too, it bears noting that he had complete creative control over this project. Everything we see in it is intentional, which means everything left out also was on purpose. This sets up the threat of a sequel, likely where they will spend most of the time explaining what they should have in the first film. If you have 2 and a half hours to tell a coherent story but choose to put off the heavy narrative lifting for a potential future film that may or may not happen, you might not be a very effective storyteller.

Photo credit: Netflix

It’s not the end of the world though for Army of the Dead. Although you can’t escape how emotionally stunted it starts, the fact that you still have any sort of attachment to the characters exists solely thanks to the actors, and despite the actual writing for them. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is Dave Bautista’s film, and everyone else is just there to support him. Ella Purnell (who plays his daughter) and Ana de la Reguera (who plays an old flame that drifted apart over time) each give a great performance and are badass characters, but ultimately (and unfortunately) they exist mostly to give Bautista’s character some emotional depth. Even Tig Notaro’s role of comic relief is meant to make the other characters more likable, all the while she feels digitally inserted into the cast after the fact. It’s a shame that the female cast is mostly used to develop and emphasize the greatest of the leading man (Bautista), but at least the ending has a glimmer of redemption. It’s all enough to make you long for the time 17 years ago where it was the other way around and Sarah Polley’s character was in Bautista’s place, the film’s length was under 2 hours, and he worked with writers who knew how to craft a story, like James Gunn.

“Army of the Dead” on Netflix May 21st. Featuring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Omari Hardwick, Theo Rossi, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Raúl Castillo. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, and Joby Harold. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic,

Film & Video Game Critic

© 2021 Jon Espino,

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