Zack Snyder, fresh off the long-awaited “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” in March, returns with “Army of the Dead,” the first film he has produced that is not based on a preexisting idea in ten years. The film follows Scott Ward, (Dave Bautista) who, after a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, leads a team into the heart of the zombies to recover enough money from a casino vault to start a new life.
From the start of his career, Zack Snyder has always made films based on preexisting material. His feature debut was 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead,” a remake of the 1978 classic. Snyder brought many new ideas to this movie, with both films sharing little more than their name and core premise. At this point, there was reason to believe that this was the beginning of a creative and unique career for Snyder.
With his next film, “300,” Zack Snyder defined his style: dark and serious with thin characters and stories propped up by exciting, over-the-top visuals. Snyder recreated the film nearly shot-for-shot, perfectly fitting with the comic book origins of “300.” Snyder kept this style for his next movie, an adaptation of the landmark “Watchmen” comic book. Once again, Snyder focused on strong visuals, including recreating famous frames from the source, while letting the story and characters fall behind. While there are some fans of Snyder’s take, many see his style as being the wrong fit for this deeply character-based story.
In 2011, Snyder tried something different with his first original film “Sucker Punch” which he wrote and directed. “Sucker Punch” was panned by critics and audiences alike, with the consensus beginning to sound awfully familiar: great visuals, poor plot. Even the most passionate Snyder fans tend to see “Sucker Punch” as one of his weakest films to date.
He followed this flop with a new direction by kicking off the DC cinematic universe. Over the next four years, Snyder would direct three DC films thereby helping to generate the tone for their shared cinematic storytelling. Sadly, Snyder’s DC films all received mixed to poor responses from viewers. Each of his DC films were fit with his signature dark, high contrast style leading many to write of Snyder as style over substance.
His 2017 film “Justice League” was further marred with controversy as Snyder had to leave the project after the death of his daughter and subsequently replaced by director Joss Whedon to finish the film. Whedon changed a lot in his version of the film and when Snyder indicated that he wanted to show his version of the film to the world, fans quickly rallied behind #ReleaseTheSnyderCut to get his version out there. After several years of requests from fans, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was finally released in March.
Now, with Snyder being as popular as he has ever been, he returns to an original project for the first time since “Sucker Punch.” The question is: can Snyder make an exciting new film that fits his strengths and won’t repeat the failures of his last original project 10 years ago? The short answer is no.
“Army of the Dead” falls in the same holes that Snyder films always have. The movie takes itself extraordinarily seriously, which is strange because, at its core, “Army of the Dead” has a truly silly premise. It’s a zombie Vegas heist movie and yet it is treated with a level of seriousness that borders on comical at times. The characters are flat, uninteresting and the story is weak. Each of the things Snyder tends to struggle with, he struggles with in this film.
Also, despite visuals typically being his biggest strength, Snyder’s visuals are extremely bland. The film should be colorful and exciting, but it is mostly full of drab hallways and empty streets. The characters are all shot in a frustratingly tight depth of field that makes the backgrounds glaze over into a mess of grays and browns.
That isn’t to say there is nothing original in “Army of the Dead.” As he did with “Dawn of the Dead,” Snyder creates a new kind of zombie with the ability to organize a hierarchy rather than being a mindless corpse. Additionally, the core idea of the movie is exciting on paper, though it is never fully realized. While it is worth pointing out that “original” does not necessarily mean better, Snyder is clearly trying to do something new that he just can’t quite master. Overall, “Army of the Dead” fails to revitalize Snyder’s career and doesn’t reach the lofty goals that he sets out to achieve.
“Army of the Dead” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Ben Lindner