Army of the Dead (4 stars)

Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder returns to the zombie film with outrageously entertaining results

Zack Snyder has tended to be a bit of a Marmite director, inspiring both devotees and haters with films like Batman v Superman, Sucker Punch, Watchmen and 300. But one thing most people seem to agree on is that his directorial debut – the 2004 remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead – was actually pretty good. So, Snyder's return to the zombie film – the Las Vegas set Army of the Dead, which grafts on elements of the heist flick – has plenty of promise. Although it sports a characteristically elongated runtime at nearly two and a half hours, the time absolutely flies by, aided by genuine jeopardy and a likeable, gender-balanced and ethnically diverse ensemble.

The exciting prologue sees a reanimated beefcake busting loose from an army convoy on the outskirts of Vegas, after amorous newlyweds trigger an explosive accident. The opening credits that follow are a thing of macabre beauty, set to a cover of 'Viva Las Vegas' from Richard Cheese and Allison Crowse, taking in the chaos that descends upon this most glitzy of cities, and unveiling some of our crack team of zombie killers and their previous, much more benign identities.

Dave Bautista is protagonist Scott Ward, properly introduced some years down the line working as a fry cook on the outskirts of Vegas, which has been walled off following the 'Zombie Wars'. He's approached by casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), who wants Scott to head back in to liberate $200 million from a vault beneath the Strip, before the city is destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Amongst the team Scott assembles are safecracker Dieter (loveable work from Matthias Schweighöfer who, by contrast, made for a bloodcurdling Klaus Barbie in Resistance), the chainsaw-wielding Van (Omari Hardwick), Nora Arnezeder's terrain expert Lilly / the Coyote, helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro, digitally replacing Chris D'Elia following sexual misconduct allegations), and Scott's right-hand woman Maria (Ana de la Reguera). Garret Dillahunt's Martin is keeping a beady eye on them for Tanaka, while Scott's estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) tags along to look for a friend who has disappeared behind the wall.

In some ways, Army of the Dead is not wildly original – the plot resembles the recent Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, while there are nods to Aliens, Jurassic World, The Walking Dead and more. But Snyder brings bags of personality to the table and, working as his own cinematographer, his strong visual sense is often expertly employed. Bautista is a physically formidable and endearingly big-hearted lead and his ragtag band are similarly charismatic; that Snyder is not afraid to aggressively whittle them down delivers a good deal of peril. Spending a bit of time on the zombies pays dividends too, with alpha zombie Zeus (Richard Cetrone) and his queen (Athena Perample) nicely conceived and employed.

If some of the emotional notes feel a bit tacked on and it doesn't quite work on the deeper level it aspires to, then it is at least outrageously entertaining. A toe-tapping soundtrack, comprised mainly of inspired covers, that makes fun nods to the action, is the icing on the cake

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 21 May.

Army of the Dead

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 28min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Written by: Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Joby Harold
  • Cast: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt
  • UK release: 21 May 2021

Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies and has been sealed off. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) seeks to reconnect with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). When approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with proposition to carry out a crazy heist, he thinks the pay-off may help him reach out to her and assembles a…