- Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “Army of the Dead,” out May 21.
- Zack Snyder returns to the zombie genre 17 years after “Dawn of the Dead” with his latest release.
- Uncompromising, the “Ocean’s 11”-style zombie heist is the first of many entries into this universe.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
From superheroes to a zombie uprising, spring has belonged to Zack Snyder.
A passion project Snyder tried getting off the ground at Warner Bros. years ago until Netflix swooped in, the director’s return to the zombie genre for the first time since 2004 combines concepts from films such as George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead” (2005), “Suicide Squad” (2016), and “Ocean 11” (2001) along with fantasy TV show, “Game of Thrones.”
Snyder, acting as writer, producer, and cinematographer, in addition to director, here, delivers a grounded and, at times, hilarious zombie film that imagines how the United States would actually try to deal with a zombie apocalypse if it occurred.
“Army” follows a group of mercenaries who, more or less, go on a suicide mission to Las Vegas, where the zombie population has been quarantined from the rest of the US. The group, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, is hired to retrieve $200 million from a casino vault.
The problem? They must try and get past a zombie overlord, his queen, and their horde of the undead undetected. The other problem is that Vegas is set to get nuked in 32 hours to rid of the zombie problem.
Despite a few uncomfortable minutes at the film’s start in which you learn how the zombie apocalypse comes to pass, overall, “Army” is a compelling twist on the genre and a gamble by Netflix, which, if it pays off, will give the streaming service a huge original zombie universe.
For those who have been dismayed or disheartened by the lack of big deaths on “The Walking Dead” or other zombie shows or films over the years, Snyder delivers and gives you what you’ve always wanted in a number of unexpected, “holy sh–” deaths.
If you want to watch a person get torn apart by a zombie tiger, this is the movie for you.
It’s not all guts, gore, and horror. Snyder’s zombies are smarter. By the film’s end, you may even be #TeamZombie.
I write about zombies a lot. In film and TV, you rarely care for the mindless monsters that tear apart the living. Usually, the dead are immensely predictable. They decay. They bite. They jump scare. They’re dangerous in herds. Rinse and repeat. That’s the cycle.
In the zombie genre, you’re usually rooting for the living (even if the people aren’t worth saving) as they try and outwit, outlast, and survive the dead. The same rings true here, to an extent. But, in “Army,” Snyder makes the viewer conflicted as they begin to care for some of the undead.
Patient zero, Zeus (Richard Cetrone), escapes during a transport from Area 51, the highly classified United States Air Force facility in Nevada, at the film’s start and is the zombie king of Snyder’s undead army.
Why is the government holding onto a zombie? Was this guy a genetically-engineered zombie? Both are great questions which, according to the film’s production notes, will be explored more in Snyder’s extended zombie-verse.
If you’re bit by Zeus, a beefy-looking, snarling zaddy who dons a cape (as all zombie kings should), you become an Alpha, a smarter and faster breed of zombie. If you’re bit by anyone who isn’t Zeus, you become one of the slower and mindless members of the undead, a Shambler. If the hierarchy sounds familiar, it’s a bit reminiscent of the Night King’s army on “Game of Thrones,” except a bit more satisfying.
Were you among those left disappointed by the Night King’s quick, anticlimactic death without learning the villain’s motivations? In “Army,” Snyder gives us a worthy zombie king who throws down with the humans and has a devoted, menacing cult following.
Here, it feels like Snyder is carrying on the work of Romero’s “Land of the Dead,” in which a sentient zombie, dubbed “Big Daddy,” rallies together other zombies to seek justice for the undead. By the film’s end, Snyder may convince you to sympathize with Zeus or even become #TeamZombie.
Tig Notaro is a scene-stealer.
Aside from the compelling zombie king (and his fabulous queen) who are sure to inspire cosplay, Snyder delivers a whole roster of characters to fall in love with or vehemently hate.
Tig Notaro (who replaced Chris D’Elia after he was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women) is inspired casting here.
Notaro already has fans from her scene-stealing appearance in the film’s trailer. That’s not a fluke. Her devil-may-care pilot steals every scene she’s in with dry wit and humor. (Not bad for someone who was working with a green screen most of the time only to be inserted into the finished film later.)
In addition to Notaro, “Fear TWD” fans who miss Garret Dillahunt on the “TWD” spinoff will be happy to see him here. However, instead of the conflicted protagonist he played on “Fear,” Dillahunt plays a character fans will love to hate. An unlikely bromance between the skittish yet brilliant Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and no-nonsense zombie-killing machine Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) will win fans over.
The only character who could have used a more fleshed-out story arc was Huma Qureshi’s Geeta, a mother held captive by Zeus.
Netflix appears to have beaten WB to the punch by making a good ‘Suicide Squad’-esque film with ‘Army.’
“Army” is certainly “Ocean’s 11” meets zombies, but I wasn’t expecting it to also feel reminiscent of DC’s “Suicide Squad” comic series.
In 2021’s upcoming live action “The Suicide Squad,” any character is expendable. One of the film’s taglines is, “Don’t get too attached,” suggesting any character could potentially meet a grim fate regardless of their prominence.
Without giving much away plot wise, the same phrase could be used to describe Snyder’s “Army of the Dead.” “Army” uses the marketing phrase, “Always bet on dead.” (It’s an apt description.)
The comparison is more interesting when you know Bautista was offered a role in James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad.” As much as he wanted to do “TSS” (he’s been a staunch supporter of Gunn), he turned it down for a better payday in Netflix’s “Army” and the opportunity to work with Snyder.
Bautista’s bet paid off as he not only gets to be in a “Suicide Squad”-style movie while getting paid more to do so, but he is also the heart of “Army” as the squad’s leader.
WB, the studio behind “Suicide Squad,” could have released a version of “Army” years ago, but couldn’t make it work creatively. WB’s loss is Netflix’s gain.
“Army” is a huge win for Netflix.
Will you be left with a bunch of questions after watching “Army”? Absolutely. That’s the point.
Netflix isn’t planning for “Army” to be a one-off. They’re all-in on Snyder’s zombie-verse.
A prequel movie, “Army of Thieves,” has already been filmed. And an anime-style TV series, “Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas,” will reunite the film’s cast while introducing Joe Manganiello and Vanessa Hudgens into the mix.
And from what Snyder recently told me, he and “Army” co-writer Shay Hatten have already figured out where a sequel (or sequels) could go if needed. That’s not a surprise from how “Army” ends.
If it takes off, I suspect “Army” will be Netflix’s answer to “The Walking Dead” universe. AMC’s hit series has streamed on Netflix in its entirety for years, making it easily accessible, and has consistently remained one of the streamer’s more popular shows.
In recent years, Netflix has dabbled in its own original zombie content, trying to find a hit in canceled shows like “Daybreak” and “Santa Clarita Diet.” Currently, the streamer has original series “Black Summer” and “Sweet Home,” which also feature zombie apocalypses.
For Netflix, Snyder’s passion project was likely exactly what it was looking for – a way to tap into the genre with a big name, passionate fanbase, and, lucky for them, someone who is at home in the genre.
I’ll be with “TWD” until the end, but, meanwhile, I’m jumping out of the chopper and getting lost in Vegas.
“Army of the Dead” will be released in select theaters on May 14 and will be available to stream on Netflix, starting May 21.