Army of the Dead review – Zack Snyder’s zombie splatterfest is a wit-free zone

A muscle-bound crew of mercenaries infiltrate a Las Vegas full of zombies in Snyder’s uninspired Netflix horror-thriller

Zombies. They grunt. They lurch inelegantly through dystopian ruined streets, sometimes breaking into an athletic sprint. They stare sightlessly ahead, often with irises that glitter in the post-apocalyptic sunset with some nameless infection. Sometimes they shriek through hideously distorted mouths from which the flesh has already been half-eaten away, as they are blasted with a shotgun. They provide metaphors for consumerism and conformism, and they also furnish a low-budget horror launching pad for ambitious young directors. But zombies are often just boring: yucky and indistinguishable horror-vermin whose gruesome killing, in each case, is a dramatically uninteresting non-moment, and all too often humourless (although an honourable exception is Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead).

And so it proves in this very long, very violent, video-game type horror-thriller from Zack Snyder. The premise is that, in a future-world in which a zombie outbreak has been contained by herding the shambling undead into a wrecked Las Vegas and walling them in, a tough Dirty Dozen-type crew is hired by a shadowy Vegas hotel owner (Hiroyuki Sanada) to bust into the city and retrieve the billions of dollars languishing in his hotel safe. The zombie slayers are led by man-mountain Scott (Dave Bautista), who is quaintly yearning for a non-mercenary retirement selling lobster rolls in his food truck, and include Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), Cruz (Ana De La Reguera), Lily (Nora Arnezeder) and Scott’s sensitive daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who is still hurting from a tough decision that Scott had to make when Kate’s mum was bitten by a zombie.

Once inside, these heavily armed mercenaries will have to contend with loads of marauding zombies, surreally including the zombified tiger used by Siegfried & Roy in their act, which is the one moment of inventiveness in the whole film.

Army of the Dead arguably has a gonzo excess, and a certain kind of end-of-the-world spectacle, maybe borrowed from Planet of the Apes; that could be down to the famous Vegas scale-replica of the Statue of Liberty. But there is something weirdly and oppressively uninspired in this CGI world; a continuous two-and-a-half hour splurge of generic zombie content which itself feels a bit zombie-ish. With a Vegas heist movie like Ocean’s Eleven, there were a few brain cells in play – at least theoretically. People had to be outsmarted. Strategy had to be deployed. Double-crosses had to be disclosed and apparent betrayals revealed to be part of the plan.

But you can’t do that fighting zombies. It’s all just one monumental splatterfest, where the zombies’ army of the dead face off against people who aren’t very alive, and all basically without jokes.

• Army of the Dead is released in the US on 14 May in cinemas, and in the US, UK and Australia on 21 May on Netflix.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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