Before Zack Snyder was known as the DC Universe guy, and everyone was craving his extra special cuts, he may have been best known for breathing new life into 2004's 'Dawn of the Dead' remake - one of the few remakes in existence than paralleled or, to some, even outdid the original. For me, 'Army of the Dead' has quite a few similarities, and I think there's definitely something here for those who enjoyed his 'Dawn of the Dead'. On a personal note, I appreciated seeing Snyder go back to his roots after his much anticipated cut of 'Justice League' here. But did it pay off?
It all opens with a military convoy, transporting something confidential from Area 51. They collide with a recently married couple, and unleash a genetically-engineered zombie in the process. Infection starts with a couple of soldiers, and soon spreads throughout Las Vegas. However, before the spread goes haywire, things are eventually contained, and Vegas becomes one big quarantine for the undead. This is all shown in the opening, which is actually a great homage to Snyder's work on 'Dawn', complete with Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe singing their rendition of 'Viva Las Vegas' while the chaos ensues in slow motion. This is very similar to 'Zombieland' as well, but given the musical choice, it's definitely Snyder asking us if we missed him - and the answer, for me, is yes!
An ex-mercenary named Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) works as a fry cook now since the quarantine. Like many, he lost his wife to the zombie attack, and became estranged from his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell) after having to put her mother down. He is approached by casino owner, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with an offer; he assembles a team to go into Vegas and retrieve $200 million from a casino vault before the city is destroyed with a tactical nuke. Agreeing, Ward assembles a team; former colleagues Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) and helicopter pilot, Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro). He further brings in safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), sharpshooter Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), and Guzman's partner, Chambers (Samantha Win).
Last additions to the team include Martin (Garret Dillahunt) who will allow them access into the casino, a smuggler wo knows the city named Lilly, known as "The Coyote" (Nora Arnezeder) and, upon learning that her friend Geeta is trapped somewhere in there, Kate joins up too, much to Ward's dismay. What follows is essentially exactly what one might expect as the team heads in for the cash, risking their lives in order to live well for the rest of them if they manage to survive. That said, one can't exactly say that you get they typical zombie stuff going on here. This time around, the zombies for a sort of "kingdom" in their quarantine, and have grown somewhat intelligent - right down to them essentially having their own king and queen. But if that's not enough, we also have a zombie tiger named Valentine who highlights this movie in the same way that guitar freak did for 'Mad Max: Fury Road'.
I enjoy a good zombie movie, but I enjoy them much more when they bring something new to the table. I have never seen a zombie tiger before, myself (although I understand one might appear somewhere in 'Walking Dead'; a show I stopped paying attention to after Season 5) but that was total badassery. I further enjoyed seeing Dave Bautista in something where he can flex a bit more of his serious acting skills, and it's interesting how this can be seen as another take on society. If 'Dawn of the Dead' was a comment on consumerism, this could be seen as a comment on gambling; the idea being that it sort of zombifies our brain, or we become "brainwashed", if you will.
So while it does, in a way, remain just another zombie movie, I felt like there was something a little bit more special about it on a personal level. In a weird way, this made me somewhat nostalgic, as so much of it actually did remind me of 'Dawn of the Dead'. I might suggest that 'Dawn' was what sparked the recent zombie craze, 'Walking Dead' brought it to its peak, and this almost represents a look back on things over the past decade plus. There is still some originality to this as well, proving that certain simplicities still haven't been done with the genre - in this case, a heist. So for those of us who like Snyder's take on the zombie trend and really know how to have fun with a zombie gore-fest, I can highly recommend checking this one out. It's kind of a blast.