In the film’s opening minutes a car careens into a military transport carrying “some Area 51” style cargo. Turns out the “cargo” is a bullet-dodging, bloodthirsty undead creature who quickly lays waste to the security detail guarding the truck, turning them into zombies with a quick chomp or two.
The undead plague quickly spreads. Hardest hit is Las Vegas, which goes into the ultimate lowdown. Walled off to keep the zombies in, Sin City is now the Undead Capital of the World.
Into this mix comes Dave Bautista as Scott Ward, soulful badass and leader of a rag tag team of misfits hired by a wealthy casino owner to infiltrate Vegas, and steal a safe full of cash. The only problem? The hundreds of well-organized zombies between them and the money.
Snyder brings the undead to vivid life in the prologue that sets the stage in an eye-popping (sometimes literally) way and if the entire movie was as inventive as the first twenty minutes, “Army if the Dead” would be a thrilling, darkly funny rollercoaster ride. But once the movie becomes a hybrid of “Oceans 11” and “World War Z” the exuberance fades in favor of more standard zombie fare.
Still, there are some innovations to the genre. There’s a lovesick zombie, undead tigers—because it wouldn’t be Las Vegas without one of Siegfried & Roy’s big cats—and zombie Cirque du Soleil contortionists. Beyond that “Army of the Dead” stays true to the conventions of the zombie and heist genres, filtered Snyder’s grim anyone-can-die-at-any-time sensibility.
One major shift from typical zombie lore, however, works well. Zombie king Zeus (Richard Cetrone) is as bloodthirsty as you might imagine, but he also has the capacity for love. It’s a new twist that gives his character more depth, giving him a motivation beyond the usual mindless hunger for humans.
Is “Army of the Dead” scary? Not really. Gross? For sure. There’s enough fake blood here to fill the Dead Sea but as stylish as the slo-motion CGI plasma sprays are, the movie, at 148 minutes it feels overlong and is a bit too deliberately paced. The zombies are cool and slightly more advanced than usual, but, unfortunately, the over-all story isn’t as evolved.