At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Army of the Dead “2021”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Army of the Dead “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Zombie Heist/ Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Samantha Win, Athena Perample, Richard Cetrone, Michael Cassidy/Runtime: 148 minutes

In the immediate aftermath of deciding to spend what feels like (and actually I think has been) a good solid 10 years completely and fully immersed in superhero land in the form of helming a trinity of slices of cinematic pie that are adaptations of distinct DC properties, iconic film helmer Zack Snyder has now decided to make a return voyage back to the world of the zombie with a new slice of cinematic pie in the form of this year’s Army of the Dead. Indeed this is really a special homecoming dear readers since not only is this the first time Snyder has come back to this distinct subgenre of movie magic since his first (and still best) slice of cinematic pie in the form of his 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but because there were quite a few wondering how Snyder’s homecoming would look after being wrapped up for so long with Super-Cavill, Batfleck, and Moms Named Martha to name a few highlights from those films he gifted audiences with. To that end, I guess I should note that Army of the Dead, more even than his director cut of Justice League, feels like what Snyder’s career has been building to at this point in time and the results are glorious. Indeed with the freedom to just go balls to the wall as much as possible courtesy of distributor Netflix, Snyder is able to come back to a genre he is clearly talented in with a riveting and novel narrative whilst also bringing along for the ride both everything he learned during his time with DC as well as an engaging cast that seems like they are down to do just about anything to play in this delightful sandbox. As such, Army of the Dead is not only a true success for a film helmer whose movies have always been quite polarizing to say the least, but it is also one of the better zombie movies of the past 5-10 years easily.

The plot is as follows: Army of the Dead opens its riveting yarn as we horrifically witness as a covert military vehicular escort in the process of carrying a secretive piece of government property from no less a locale than Area 51 (the truth IS out there apparently in this universe too movie lover) is involved in an accident with a couple that has just tied the knot and are now…..ahem “consummating” their newly discovered wedding bliss that sees them subsequently lose their control of this piece of property on the outskirts of none other than Las Vegas, Nevada. It is at this point where we quickly and horrifically learn a few key things. One is that the property these soldiers are transporting is revealed to be a zombie of some kind and/or fashion. The second however is that this particular member of the zombie race is quicker, tougher, and significantly more brutal than the vast majority of either undead or (as witnessed firsthand by this particular convoy) the majority of still living human beings. To that end, we see that it isn’t long before Sin City horrifically and swiftly becomes besieged by numerous members of the undead fraternity and from there we soon witness as all of Vegas is soon sealed off with the aid of shipping containers in order to keep the undead from heading out and wreaking havoc on the rest of the United States. So it is that the film soon cuts to several years later as we see that a member of the organization known as mercenaries who engaged in combat against the undead in Vegas when things started falling apart by the name of Scott Ward as he is approached by a uber-rich guy with a perilous assignment to break into a top-secret vault located just under The Strip and retrieve quite a bit of money that is just sitting in the vault untouched. Deciding to take on this truly daunting task, we see our hero decide to assemble a rather unique yet also potent squad to help him retrieve the dough even though doing so sets them in the crosshairs of not only 2 distinct zombie squads, but also a countdown of sorts as an executive order has been signed that will see a nuke dropped on Vegas in order to hopefully deal with the undead menace once and for all…

Now besides being Snyder’s first foray to the world of the undead since 2004, Army of the Dead is also distinct in being Snyder’s first movie since Sucker Punch back in 2011 to be a completely novel idea. Indeed whereas quite a few of his previous cinematic endeavors like Batman v. Superman, Watchmen, and even 300 are all adaptations of all pre-existing properties, Army of the Dead is a novel narrative that Snyder came up with alongside a writer duo consisting of Shay Hatten and Joby Harold respectively. It is with that in mind that it should come as no surprise to see that Snyder is a film helmer who has usually done his best work when he is not having to work inside something that has already been done before. Indeed whereas he really did seem to have difficulty in working with pre-established characters like The Man of Steel or Batman, Snyder has no trouble here in creating not only a distinct narrative, but an entirely new world as well to the point that not only does each character get a fairly well-done arc, but they also each get their own moment in the film as well. Plus since we don’t know what to expect from these characters, Snyder is able to use that to his advantage and give each character distinct qualities that make sitting through this that much more fun and the characters that much better developed.

Above all though, what Snyder as a film helmer is best regarded for is his stunning visual and technical know-how and this skill is showed off spectacularly well in this film. Heck just knowing he shot his own movie as well as helmed it is downright incredible to me. Yes in all fairness there is quite a bit of Snyder’s typical moments of focusing shots and slo-mo on display here, but they manage to make more sense here than they did in a drama-filled superhero saga. Put another way: the choices Snyder makes from a style perspective manage to line up wonderfully with the overall creativity of the world he has constructed here rather than working against it. Indeed there really is just something so inherently riveting about the tone of this film in regards to how it takes both itself and the zombie mythos it has created so respectfully. I mean there are new rules in this film in regards to how zombies operate that honestly feel like they have never been done before especially when taking into account that the “smart” zombies in this film really don’t feel like zombies cinema has ever dealt with up to this point. A feat made possible due to not only being creatures created through the utilization of possibly alien DNA, but also because they keep undead tigers as pets and request a sacrifice as tribute to safely traverse through their lands for a period of time. Yes I know how ludicrous that sounds, but the fact that it is treated so sincerely and respectfully is the key to making it all come together. I mean I get that Snyder is quite often slammed by critics for how serious his narratives get, but in all fairness that’s because the tales he is regaling us with are quite serious as it is. Yet for this film to work on the level that it does, it actually needs that level of sincerity from him and he does actually permit moments throughout the film to let his gifted cast crack a joke or 3. Thus this slice of cinematic pie may be like 2004’s Dawn of the Dead in that it deals with the undead, but unlike that film this one also shows that Snyder, with the right material, can effectively balance both comedy and gravitas in a film with skill and care that is truly second to none.

As for the ensemble cast that has been brought together to engage in this 2 hr and 28 minute bout of pure unadulterated zombie carnage and/or chaos I find myself in quite the intriguing position when talking about them. That is because if I am being completely honest I felt that no matter the amount of screen time they are given, each and every single cast member does a top-notch job at bringing this insanely enjoyable topsy-turvy world alive. Yet at the end of the day, there are still a pair of performances that I definitely feel should be highlighted for you guys and that is the performances given to us by Omari Hardwick and Matthias Schweighöfer. I mean these 2 guys are absolutely fantastic and their chemistry is a true treasure to behold. That and if I’m being honest not only does this duo provide some of the better comedic moments, but they also have some of the more potent gut punches in the film as well. In addition, I also would like to point out that it was truly enjoyable getting to see Dave Bautista in the lead role of Ward in this. No it’s not exactly a game changer in terms of characterization, but there is no denying that with each new role he takes on Bautista continues to mold and grow and really bring a gravitas to each character that he plays that feels novel in the best way possible.

All in all I think it is safe to say that Army of the Dead is a Zack Snyder movie through and through. As a result, this comes with a few distinct things that you should be made aware of namely quite a few instances where the camera decides to engage in a bounty of shots of a slow motion nature, a smorgasbord of cover renditions of iconic folk songs, and a few other distinctive creative decisions scattered throughout this slice of cinematic pie’s epic 2 hour and 28 minute runtime. Yet even though this slice of cinematic pie is most assuredly a mess at certain points to say nothing of the fact that a few of the side narrative arcs don’t operate quite as well as they should, this is still a well-imagined, strongly-performed, and downright riveting and engaging cinematic experience that is rather difficult to not find some level of enjoyment in viewing from beginning to end. On a scale of 1-5 I give Army of the Dead a solid 3.5 out of 5.