George Romero meets Oceans Eleven in Zack Snyder's overlong but undeniably fun zombie-action thriller ARMY OF THE DEAD.
Armed with a clever concept, a huge budget and a talented cast, Snyder delivers the most thrills I've had at a walking dead flick since "World War Z".
In the bloody hilarious prologue, the army manages to set loose an undead super soldier in the desert outside Las Vegas.
By the end of the titles, a fast moving wave of Zombies have overtaken Sin City and the government is dropping an all-out air assault on The Strip to battle the biting hoard.
It's almost indescribable fun watching my favorite city overtaken by the chompers as drone blasts hit the Eiffel Tower outside the Paris Casino, dropping it squarely on a Zombie Elvis's head. I laughed a lot, but also cringed at the absolute blood bath on display.
Similar to WWZ, Snyder establishes the rules of the infected quickly. They are fast and they are lethal. But this time around, they also seem to huddle around a King and Queen, adding another level of organization and danger to the battle.
A massive quarantine settlement is set up just outside the cordoned off walls of the city, reminding me of the clever shots that opened John Carpenter's "Escape from New York". The soldiers seem nearly as bad mannered as the zombies.
So who in hell would risk going back INTO the city?
How about a diverse band of mercenaries hired by Tanaka, a billionaire casino magnate (the always impressive Hiroyuki Sanada from "John Wick 4" and "Bullet Train") to retrieve the $200 million he left behind in the vault of his casino? He's got the key cards, the details and the perfect team, including a young German safecracker named Dieter (the hilarious Matthias Schweighofer from "Oppenheimer") who has mad skills and a high pitched scream whenever he sees a zombie.
Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) handpicks his team in a quest to earn the $50 million payday, which includes the dynamic and lethal Omari Hardwick as Vanderohe, Bad-ass Nora Arnezeder as The Coyote, Ana de la Reguera (Narcos) as Maria and Ella Purnell as Scott's daughter, Kate. Only Tig Nataro seems miscast as the team's helicopter pilot. She's a talented comedienne, but she had to film all her scenes by herself and get digitally merged into the film during the Covid era and her battle with cancer. Not having anyone to playoff definitely hurts her performance.
Every time the film wanders off to explore personal connections between Scott and his daughter, I just saw scenes that could be cut from the luxurious and overlong 2 1/2 hour running time, but damned if Snyder doesn't balance every slow bit with a killer action sequence.
The film is loaded with them and I played several of them three times in a row before moving on in the film, a sure sign that something has dropped my jaw.
The film gives off serious 'Aliens" vibes as the team makes their incursion into Vegas, especially when hordes of the undead mass around the group like all those xenomorphs hunting our heroes in James Cameron's masterpiece.
But Snyder is no Cameron, so let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
Garret Dillahunt is the slimy guy you love to hate, a rogue soldier added to Scott's team at Tanaka's request, but just like in "Aliens", there seems to be plenty of double crossing afoot.
The final forty minutes is excellent, with the President of the United States announcing that he's going to drop a nuke on Las Vegas to rid the world of the virus infected zombie chompers once and for all. Listening to his advisers, he decides to move the bombing up to July 3rd, even though he thought it would be pretty damn patriotic to blow that shit up on our country's birthday.
That sudden timeline change gives our team about 90 minutes to complete raiding the safe and escape the impending mushroom cloud.
Snyder's always been best at story boarding and then executing absolutely bonkers action scenes and he delivers several here.
My favorites are Scott and a smaller group from his team trying to cross the casino to get to the elevators to the rooftop helicopter. "Get to the choppa!!" would be perfect here. In an incredibly choreographed bullet ballet, thousands of rounds are unleashed at wave after wave of flesh eaters as our heroes fly over and under gaming tables and slot machines. It's an absolute blast.
Hardwick (Sorry to Bother You) proves himself to be a bonafide action star. Let's get this guy his own action flick, he makes it look easy.
Snyder saves his A-game for the final helicopter escape attempt from the city as the incoming nuke streaks against the sky.
It's an assault on the eyes & ears that made me laugh and smile non-stop. Bautista rocks as a lethal one-man assault team.
My favorite getaway spot has never looked so bad.
Half the fun is trying to see where on the strip the action is taking place in every scene. It's replicated down to the street signs and every hotel you know is right where it belongs, smoldering, broken and infected. The visual effects are strong, reflecting the film's rumored $90 million budget.
If you love George Romero zombie movies, Snyder's terrific 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" AND heist movies, you're in for a real treat.
This thing is a blast right down to the final moments with one of our heroes unknowingly setting up a potential sequel.
Buckle me in and let's go. ARMY OF THE DEAD gets a gory, hilarious and audacious B. If Snyder would have hired an editor to cut 30 minutes, this would be a modern classic of the genre.