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‘Army of the Dead’: Zombie fans hit the jackpot in Zack Snyder’s blood-soaked heist film

Dave Bautista heads the entertaining gang of thieves battling the undead to rob a huge stash of Sin City cash.

Dave Bautista plays a mercenary who ventures into Las Vegas, walled off as a prison for zombies, in “Army of the Dead.”
Netflix

They’ve released the Snyder Cut!

Also: the Snyder Bruise, the Snyder Bite, the Snyder Maim, the Snyder Stab, the Snyder Gouge, the Snyder Decapitation, the Snyder Hail of Bullets, the Snyder Nuclear Explosion and you get the idea. There’s even a report director Zack Snyder originally had a scene in “Army of the Dead” involving a severed male organ, but he decided not to include it, and I for one wouldn’t mind if we never see the Snyder Cut of THAT Snyder Cut.

The man who gave us “300” and “Sucker Punch” and “Justice League” is the director, co-writer, producer and cinematographer for a Netflix original film that is the “Nomadland” of Zombie Apocalypse Vegas Heist Movies. This is an unapologetically over-the-top, blood-soaked, orgy of stylized violence filled with familiar action-movie characters going through familiar action-movie paces, with a whole lot of CGI, a bounty of epic set-pieces and a borderline exhausting number of kills. You could click to virtually any moment along the 148-minute timeline and land on either a scene of horrific bloodshed — or the characters pausing to take a breath and discuss their next move, which will inevitably involve even more horrific bloodshed.

Have I mentioned this isn’t for the kiddies?

Though “Army of the Dead” has a prologue involving an Area 51-related military transport mission gone horribly wrong, resulting in the release of an undead monster who quickly chews up a dozen soldiers just outside the city of Las Vegas, it’s not as if we spend the rest of the movie tracking a bunch of zombies in military uniforms who wage some sort of unholy war. After one of the most prolonged, blood-spattered and wildly entertaining opening credits sequences in recent film history, we’re plunged into what is essentially a standard-issue zombie movie, albeit an extremely well-executed entry in the genre with some wickedly sharp humor and the obligatory heartfelt family reconciliation moments sprinkled among the exploding heads and dripping entrails.

Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Stuber”), who looks like a walking CGI creation and has a winning combination of imposing physicality and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson self-effacing personality, carries the film on his enormous shoulders as Scott Ward, a mercenary who is now working as a short-order cook on the outskirts of Las Vegas after a zombie outbreak leveled the Strip, with the government walling off the undead in a quarantine zone with rows of massive shipping containers while contemplating whether or not to drop a nuke on the city and be done with it. (Apparently, What Slays in Vegas Stays in Vegas, as the outbreak hasn’t yet spread.) Hiroyuki Sanada is great fun as Bly Tanaka, a greedy and power-hungry businessman (is there any other kind in monster movies?) who enters the rundown diner one day with a proposition for Scott. There’s $200 million in a vault beneath a Vegas casino, and if Scott can put together a team to infiltrate the quarantine zone, somehow avoid being eaten and return with the loot, his cut will be $50 mil, to be distributed as he sees fit.

Businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuka Sanada) knows where $200 million can be found in the zombie quarantine zone.
Netflix

Cue the “Oceans of Blood 11” recruitment scenes, as Scott assembles a ragtag squad of wisecracking, devil-may-care experts, including the cigar-chomping helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro, yay); the killing machine/philosopher Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick); Scott’s best friend and former romantic partner Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), a mechanic; the rogue zombie slayer and social media influencer Mikey (Raul Castillo), who records his kills on streaming video; a nasty and corrupt security chief (Theo Rossi), and the German comic relief character Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), perhaps the only living human who can crack the massive and elaborate safe holding the aforementioned mountains of cold hard cash. Oh, and Scott’s estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) talks her way onto the team because she wants to rescue her missing friend, but it’s mostly so Scott and Kate can be at odds until, you know, they’re not, because he’s still her daddy gosh darn it!

This strain of zombies has been on a self-improvement kick during quarantine (who hasn’t?) and “they’re smarter, faster and organized,” according to Lily (Nora Arnezeder), who has been to the zone before and helps Scott and company navigate the treacherous journey. There’s even a Zombie King and Zombie Queen and they’re going to have a little Zombie Prince or Princess, yikes. Still, other than the lead zombies fashioning some stylish protective headgear (only a shot to the brain will result in death), the hundreds upon hundreds of snarling flesh-chompers attacking Scott and the group nearly every step of the way don’t seem particularly innovative or organized. They don’t stumble around as if they’re tired and drunk, but they’re pretty dumb and single-minded.

Much of “Army of the Dead” plays like a hard-R version of one of Michael Bay’s dumb-fun actioners, with clichéd characters bonding and in some cases dying while on an epic mission, as we see sun-dappled images of a threatened America and hear pop songs on the soundtrack. If you think we’re getting through this movie without nods to Siegfried & Roy’s tigers, Liberace, Elvis impersonators, the deadening monotony of slots and the faux Statue of Liberty on the Strip, come on.