I am not sure about when the production and pre-production started for Army of the Dead, but the timing of the movie suggests that it was a pure cash-grab move by Netflix capitalizing on the popularity of Zack Snyder after the Snyder Cut fiasco. Nevertheless being a Zack snyder movie I was looking forward to watching this movie, at least for the gory slo-mo action sequences and the dark brooding environment that Zack Snyder is known for.
But a few minutes into the movie, I noticed that the colour tone of the movie was brighter than I expected. I know that Snyder has been constantly criticised for his use of dark tones which was made even more evident when he took up the role of driving the DCEU. I think Zack Snyder was probably one of the prime victims of the MCU vs DCEU fan-war. With chronological order of movies and a headstart to boot, the success of MCU was leaps ahead of DCEU in the game of box office catch-up. Meanwhile Dc had just tied up its immensely popular and critically acclaimed Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and was sitting on Man of Steel which was received with mixed reviews.
I, for one, loved Man of Steel because of the dark and realistic portrayal of Superman fights and its obvious after effects to the city’s skyline. This Superman was far more grounded (at least as grounded as a flying invincible alien with, and not limited to, super-strength and ability to shoot lasers from its eyes, can be) and had reasonable moral dilemmas. Superman in this universe was a superhero unlike any before. There was no guide book he could read up on. General Zod and other Kryptonians were the first real challenge he encountered. For him the choice was between the city skyline or world destruction.
Marvel’s cinematic universe catapulted with the unexpected success of Iron Man, a movie about a not so popular superhero played by an actor whose face was relatively new for the general international audience. I am not and will never say that the first Iron Man movie was not good. It was extremely well made and I am a fan of Jon Favreau’s work. But the slate was clean and because of that their work was comparatively easier. Iron Man did not have a cinematic entry and if any had been done, it was obviously not a popular take. So the creators just needed to bring forth an iteration that was true to the comics and made sure that it was keeping up with the modern times, and thankfully the world had enough real-life tech to make this not seem like a huge leap.
Man of Steel on the other hand was a harder movie to get the audience excited for. Superman was obviously an iconic hero and his origin story had been told, retold, revamped and parodied and even those parodies have been retold countless times. So when coming up with a Superman movie to kickstart a universe Syder obviously had to reinvent the wheel and to be honest the new wheel was pretty awesome. But it started ricketing when it started playing catch-up to Marvel who by this time was several movies ahead. DC’s counterstroke was to skip building the foundation to jump on to match movies with Marvel thereby creating a hodge-podge universe that barely made sense.
All this rant over a different colour tone, guess it had to come out sometime. Coming back to Army of the Dead. The most frustrating thing about Army of the Dead was that it was the most unSnyder Snyder movie. There were no picturesque sequences that stayed with you even after the movie, I missed the overused slo-mo action and the otherworldly feel. The movies I am referring to as signature Snyder movies are Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen – I am not exposed to more of his work other than the DCEU obviously.
Coming to the characters, they were just different shades of the same caricature. They were essentially a group of badass characters with no defining traits or motivations. Throughout the movie any character choice made could very well be made by any one else in the group.
Army of the Dead is almost making fun of the Zombie genre. It is almost felt as if this zombie apocalypse trope was so played out that even the creator felt that there were no real stakes. Yes, most of the characters die by the time the movie ends. But when these paper thin characters are so nonchalant about the threat ahead of them, why should we, the audience, care. The most noticeable was the lack of panic when the nuke was preponed. The best I could get from the scene was “Aw shucks, I guess I need to run instead of walk now”. While recovering from this lack of response to a shitty situation, I was presented by the obviously non-existent threat of the helicopter leaving without them. It was so obvious that there would be a grand re-entry, that I kinda hoped the movie would actually not make the helicopter come back so as to add at least some shock value to the entire movie.
The only time when the movie subverts our expectations is in the most frustrating scene for me. Early on there is a sequence of this person being tricked into a room full of Zombies alone. Which results in her having to decimate an entire horde which she does in one of the best action sequences in the movie, jumping out the window to a hallway right next to her team. She is still fighting off zombies without any sign of being zombified herself. But the entire team of badass zombie killers with their big-ass guns just look at her as if they were helpless. She alone took out a HORDE and that too in a tight dark space without much room to maneuver, and when she rejoins her whole team in a large bright hallway they suddenly are unable to help her out. They don’t even make an effort to support her, they just abandon her outright.
It is obvious that Army of the Dead is the cornerstone for a new franchise. There are sooo many questions left unanswered. The origin of the Zombies, the robot Zombies and obviously the cliffhanger at the end. I guess, Army of the Dead did serve its purpose of setting up questions that could potentially be answered by future entries in the franchise.