Army of the Dead

I’m not much of a zombie film fan. There, I said it. In pop culture this makes me very weird, apparently. But I’ve literally never seen the appeal. Whenever I’d watch one I’d think, “Oh, this is basically the same as the last one… and the one before that…” Variation has never seemed to be a strong suit for the genre, but that doesn’t seem to worry the aficionados. So long as there’s some mass zombie slaughter, maybe a chase, and some gory deaths for a few heroes, it’s fine. Rinse and repeat.

Now, this next part will sound like terrible name dropping and, in a sense, it is but there’s a point to it, I swear. I was working for Paramount Pictures as a consultant many years ago and doing some very early pre-publicity on Watchmen. I think it came about because Zack Snyder was in Australia, possibly working on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole? Anyway, for the purposes of this press afternoon we screened a long-ish segment from Watchmen on a big screen (from memory it was the segment showing how Jon Osterman became Doctor Manhattan), and Zack did some press.

It was a pretty cool afternoon and after I’d been slapped on the back by my press contacts as they departed for getting them up close and personal with, “The guy who made 300…” I was left with some of the senior publicists and Zack, who was by now munching on some Yum cha style finger food and just chatting casually. One of the publicists had brought a DVD to get signed for someone they knew. Maybe their neighbour or something. I took a look at it. Dawn of the Dead read the cover. I actually didn’t realise Zack had made a remake of the 70s film. It had completely passed me by. It planted a seed, however, and as I pulled out my copy of the Watchmen graphic novel to get Zack’s autograph (this was very unusual, by the way, we hardly ever got autographs like this with visiting actors or film makers), I made a mental note to seek out a copy of Dawn of the Dead to see if it was any good.

Surprisingly, I didn’t mind Dawn of the Dead at all. For someone who’s not much into the genre, I thought it was a really well done film. So when Army of the Dead came onto my radar recently and I realised that not only had Zack made another zombie film but it was going to drop on Netflix and I wouldn’t have to lift a finger to see it, I was actually quite intrigued by the concept and made a note in my diary to sit down on the day of release to check it out. That day was today. Here I am. Hello!

Army of the Dead has an interesting premise. Remove the zombies and it’s a heist film. Not only that, but a heist film where the location of the treasure is going to be nuked in a day’s time. That already gets the blood pumping… there’s a countdown… a team has to be formed… the mission has to be worked out… but then throw in a city full of zombies on top, and that’s actually a fun kind of thing.

In practice, of course, the story plays out like you think it will. As expected there’s another reason why one of them’s on the mission. No secret when people are openly asking this character what his deal is basically from the start. Characters will die; it’s just a question of which order they’ll die in. Someone else who has a mission it would seem very cruel to fail at, won’t fail at it. And so on and so forth. If you hit pause about 30 minutes into the film you can pretty much take a good guess as to where a lot of it will go, but I guess that’s not the point. The actual spectacle of seeing Las Vegas in ruins is amazing and because the city has so many faux-Roman and other weird buildings based on world architecture through the ages, to see it in ruin makes the place look absolutely ancient. It’s quite cool to see.

Something else that caught my eye in the pre-publicity for Army of the Dead was that Matthias Schweigh√∂fer is in the cast. This is a German actor who I know for his work as Manfred von Richthofen in The Red Baron. Here he plays a German safe cracker, and he does a nice line in being a comedic German type, obsessed with machines – or perhaps engineering is a better way to put it – of any kind. He never goes over the top and does a beautiful portrayal of someone who could even be slightly on the spectrum, not that I think that’s meant to be the takeaway, it’s just how I took it.

All in all, Army of the Dead is fine. It’s maybe half an hour too long, but that seems to be a Zack thing and it wasn’t too egregious. I’m actually the wrong person to look towards to enthuse too much as I really am a non-zombie-loving kind of guy, but I was still entertained by the film regardless. Lots of nice touches all the way through. Great visuals. And would that be a set-up for a sequel at the very end? If you like zombies, this is a no-brainer. No pun intended. And even if you’re not, give it a whirl.

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