Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead

By Owen Gleiberman

If you go to see just one movie this year, Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” might be the ticket — not because it’s the best movie you’ll see in 2021 (or maybe even this week), but because it’s a stylishly grandiose, muscular but conventional popcorn pageant that’s got something for just about everyone. It’s a zombie movie. It’s a heist thriller. It’s a sentimental father-daughter reconciliation story. It’s set in Las Vegas (albeit it the bombed-out dystopian ruins of Vegas). It’s got a gifted cast of diverse actors playing plucky renegades. It’s got a spectacular climax featuring a dropped nuclear bomb. It’s two hours and 28 minutes of packed-to-the-gills video-game-meets-21st-century-Western-meets-day-of-the-living-dead fun, all staged by Snyder with a jaunty spirit of gung-ho classicism. A viewer might be tempted to ask: What’s not to like?

The film’s limitation — you knew there was a catch coming! — is that as solid a chunk of oversize diversion as “Army of the Dead” is, most of it still has a kind of second-hand quality. At one point, after our zombie-killer heist squad has entered the trashed streets of Vegas, we see the wrecked but still standing Statue of Liberty, an image it’s hard not to notice without flashing back to the ending of “Planet of the Apes,” a moment that singlehandedly launched the genre of cinematic dystopia. In that fabled scene, the Statue was a haunting remnant of human civilization.

In “Army of the Dead,” it’s just a junked remnant of a copy, and the whole movie is basically like that. Snyder, who shot the film as well as co-writing and directing it, is a master of ballistic staging (the zombies’ heads explode with gratifying rock ‘n’ roll precision), but “Army of the Dead,” even more than Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” feels assembled from bits and pieces of other, superior pop-culture touchstones. It’s less roiling than “World War Z,” less ingenious than a good “Ocean’s” film, less all-for-one inspiring than “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Yet it has a pleasing brawn and sweep, and you get caught up in it. As meat-and-potatoes escapism, it’s good diner food served with extra ketchup.

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