Ben Nietzel
Ben Nietzel works as the principal of Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School. He also enjoys coaching Muskie football and reviewing movies.

Muscatine Living

Breaking into one of Las Vegas’ most secure casino vaults was always going to be nearly impossible, but doing it in the middle of a zombie invasion might just push it over the edge.

Pro – Amazing visuals

“Army of the Dead” is a 2021 Netflix release written and directed by Zac Snyder. Details are scarce, but an apparent army experiment gone awry in the desert results in the zombie infestation and destruction of Las Vegas. The outbreak is contained to Sin City by building a makeshift wall around it. It now serves as an alluring trap for anyone wanting to cash in on all the money still inside the city.

Snyder does a masterful job of reconstructing what Las Vegas, especially the touristy areas, might look like if everyone suddenly turned into zombies one day. The film is replete with iconic Vegas ruins, zombies in all manner of Vegas attire, and even an undead tiger. The film looks great. The visuals are amazing, and suitably gross at times, and the hordes of zombies look realistic (no “World War Z” CGI here) though not overly terrifying.

Pro – Fun…

The premise of the film is of course ludicrous. Think “Oceans 11” meets “28 days Later” and you’ll be traveling down the right path. However, the ridiculousness of the premise is a blessing, as it lends a charming goofy playfulness to the film. Zombie movies/shows/comics/books are of course always metaphors for something or another that demands hopeless nihilism and destruction from start to finish. “Army of the Dead” departs from this, and it’s wonderful.

Anchored by WWE superstar turned Marvel-famous actor Dave Bautista, our “heroes” gleefully run around as if in a video game, using body slams, concrete saws, and so many headshots that clearly “aim assist” must have been on. It’s bloody and even gross at times, but also delightful and hip. The characters are suitably quirky and the humor is funny without being off-putting. All in all, leaning harder into the “Oceans 11” side makes the movie feel fresh and novel in a good way.

Con – … until it’s not

Unfortunately, the last quarter of the movie seems to undo the first 75%. Without spoiling too much, the plan goes wrong. Then it goes from wrong to disastrous. Details aside, the important thing is the tone. The fun, cool “Army of the Dead” gives way to a plodding, nihilistic finish that feels all-to-familiar. It’s as if the fun, naïve script simply could not hold out from the shambling, uncaring, relentless tropes that animate ever zombie movie ever made. It’s too bad because the breathe of fresh air was appreciated, even more so once it was gone.

“Army of the Dead” is a fun time, at least for most of it. The visuals are killer, the cast is great, and the story feels cool and novel, up to a point. It’s unfortunate the end seems unable to help itself and strays into pretty standard zombie-fare. Synder is to be commended for the visual feast he presents, and a pretty cool story. It’s too bad it couldn’t have stayed a little more playful to the end. Still, “Army of the Dead” is not a bad way to spend an evening. I suggest dusting off an old helicopter and flying over the Fridley Palms theater to grab some popcorn before settling in to watch this movie!

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