Special thanks to guest reviewer Travis Taylor for his wordsmithin’!!!
Army of the Dead is the newest generation of Zombie flix and does not fail to entertain on any level. The actors and actions scenes are top notch, the funny scenes are actually funny and with the introduction of a new’ish type of zombie (smart ones who control the regular ole shuffling zombies), it’s almost a white knuckled joy of a film to watch. Right off the bat the film explains how the zombie plague happened and introduces us to and invests our time and attention in the team of zombie killers who become a close knit family unit after fighting for survival together during the zombie outbreak (which was thankfully limited to and contained in what was once Las Vegas). We can almost feel the camaraderie between the team and share in their heartbreak when they lose one of their own and all of this in just the first few minutes of the their introduction in the film, which is something most movies take a good deal of time to establish. I was apprehensive at the beginning, most zombie movies follow the same old formula (it’s a formula that works! I watch old horror movies with the same old formula over and over again, especially after I watch a new one that disappoints me) but I immediately felt this one was different.
After the outbreak is contained, the team of survivors part ways and take up mundane lives, struggling for money and scraping by. A rich corporate guy approaches the hero (Dave Bautista) with a proposition to make fifty million dollars by taking his team back into the containment area and breaking into a bank to steal his corporation’s money which his insurance company has already paid him for after the containment area was evacuated. After some thought, the hero agrees and assembles his old team along with some new hands to help with their mission. The chief of security for the rich corporate guy is assigned to the team and right off we can tell he’s someone that’s not to be trusted and later on we’re not disappointed to find out we were right! The rich corporate guy is after a “queen” zombie’s head to build himself an unstoppable personal army of mindless super soldier level undead and the bank job is just a distraction. Also, if this isn’t enough excitement and suspense, the US government has decide to drop a limited yield nuke on the city to wipe out the zombie menace once and for all and our team of fearless zombie killers / bank robbers are on the clock to complete their mission and get out of town before the otherwise balmy Las Vegas weather turns thermonuclear.
…and then, after some funny and entertaining interactions while assembling the team, enter the subplot (drum roll), the Hero’s brat, millennial’ish daughter (sad trombone sound). At which time, for me at least, the movie took a bit of a nose dive, which leveled out until almost the end and then hit the ground nose first going fifteen thousand miles per hour.
I could go on and on about this horrible subplot detracting from the movie but I’ll try to be succinct. The “Hero’s” wife was turned into a zombie during the outbreak and was trying to kill and eat their daughter. To save their daughter, the hero had to kill his wife (the mother) and the daughter hates him with a passion for it. The daughter now works at some sort of tent city just outside the zombie containment area and the hero needs her to provide a way for him and his team to get inside the “zombie zone”.
Hit pause, momentary rewind: The film establishes the daughter is an altruistic social worker of some kind, helping what I guess are immigrant families living in the tent city outside of undead plagued Las Vegas? A clear reference to the “children in cages” on America’s border, with evil, corrupt, brutal guards and everything. One of the women the daughter knows is trying desperately to get out of the tent city and tells her she’s going to try and smuggle herself and her kids out. The daughter tries to dissuade her, fails and predictably the token “tent city woman” gets trapped inside the zombie containment zone.
Fast forward to present and to the scene where the daughter is demanding her hero Dad take her into the zone to look for the lost woman, press play: The hero refuses, rightly so, saying that she would jeopardize the lives of his tight knit team who he considers family and suggests she stay out of the zone and he and his team will look for the woman . The daughter literally stamps her foot, crosses her arms and tells him she’ll go in without him and “just die” at which time the hero immediately caves in and with an almost “aw shucks” delivery, tells his family-team he’s going to go ahead and jeopardize their lives by bringing his brat kid with him; and that’s where the movie started to die for me.
After this point, the subplot hangs over the film like a dark cloud and although there were really good actions scenes, suspense and the new type of zombie ecology and hierarchy was interesting, we found ourselves waiting for the inevitable. Then as painfully obviously expected, the brat daughter abandons the team and strikes out on her own to find the woman. which quickly leads to every last team member being killed and or infected, the mission is a failure and the brat daughter gets to shoot her Dad in the head. It’s a ridiculously over used setup (take an undisciplined, untrained, useless brat with you on a high speed deadly mission and hey, ya know, just hope it all works out), that leaves you shaking your head in contempt and exasperation so dense that you don’t even catch yourself yelling “don’t do it! Don’t do it!!” at the view screen. You just sort of sigh, rest your cheek on your fist and wait for it to get over like a lecture you were forced to attend.
So here’s my take away of the subplot: A thankless, brat child, embarks on a woke warrior mission to help a marginalized minority, forces her Dad to obey her demand for help regardless of who it harms, derails his plan into a failed mission, gets his team killed, gets to tell him off by explaining that while she does truly, passionately hate him, she doesn’t hate him for the reasons he thinks -and- she gets to kill him with a bullet to the head. Plus! Just before she kills him, her Dad gives her a stack of money he managed to hang on to before everyone was killed …Basically, the film inserts the passionate dream of every pampered, thankless, basement dwelling, spoiled kid who has been raised wrong (the dream to command their parents, blame them for everything that’s wrong in their life, get what they want and then kill them), combined with a bit of social issue “woke’ism” into an otherwise really good movie with lots of explosions and suspenseful/tense moments operating on a unique’ish well thought out plot, the end. Ultimately, this movie would be a complete success and a joy to watch if it weren’t for the daughter subplot. I’d have to say go ahead and invest the time to give it a watch, the majority of the rest of the movie makes it worth putting up with the subplot crap and makes up (just a little) for falling back on the old “undisciplined kid getting everyone killed” horror movie thing.