I love zombies. I started my writing career penning stories about zombies. I’ve been a co-producer on a zombie walk since 2016. I use a hamfisted play on the title Dawn of the Dead (Danno of the Dead) as my username online. Anyone who’s read this column knows that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the living dead. But I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead three times trying to find a way to tell you that I loved this return to gory, big budget horror and I just can’t. Frankly, I think the sycophantic praise that many horror critics and reviewers have been heaping onto the movie is evidence that, at least as far as filmmaking is concerned, we’ve given up on storytelling in favor of CGI and sensory overload.

There’s pretty much no way for me to do this review without some massive spoilers so, be warned, you’re about to be really pissed.

Army of the Dead opens up with a stereotypical “secret” military convoy transporting an illicit military secret out of Area 51 headed for parts unknown. The prison cell sized container holding patient zero of the impending zombie apocalypse is almost entirely unsecure on the back of an army flatbed being escorted by an APC and two Hummers. But it’s not an all-star team of terrorists or an incompetent soldier who cause the zombie to escape and start spreading chaos. No, it’s a dude getting road head that runs into the truck that sends the situation spiraling into madness. And it only gets worse from there.

The opening credits serve as a wordless introduction/narrative exposition of the years (?) long zombie war that was contained to the great Las Vegas area. We meet a handful of the cast members in these opening credits and see them gruesomely smashing their way through the hordes of the living dead. We finally see an unnamed hero and her daughter being simultaneously devoured and crushed before there’s a hard cut to some undisclosed point in the future where Dave Bautista has gone from kicking ass to flipping burgers. This is where the classic heist movie formula comes into play. I’m going to save my comments on that entire sub-genre of film because I feel like Rick & Morty did a pretty good job taking the piss out of it already and I’m almost certain that anyone who is a fan of Army of the Dead is also going to be an R&M fan.

This is where the story starts going off onto a lot of tangents and ideas that it will poorly develop and, ultimately, leave completely unresolved. We get a political narrative about current events of racial injustice, the border crisis, human trafficking, and climate change mixed in with our criminal endeavor. A story about Dave Bautista trying to reconnect with his daughter, some survivor’s guilt/PTSD, and corporate greed all get peppered in with sentient zombies who heal, grow hair, and apparently can have sex and reproduce somehow. There’s a hell of a lot of plot and subplot to try and unpack and, while we get these poorly paced snippets of story here and there, none of it ends up being developed and it’s all wrapped up in these stale, predictable archetype characters who feel absolutely redundant and replaceable. There’s not a single death that made you feel anything but a sense of absolute relief at the fact that you didn’t have to deal with their fucking character any longer.

I enjoy some mindless, awful B movies. I really do. And I can overlook the lack of story that appears in them just like most people overlook the lack of story in porno flicks. No one called for a hairy plumber and no one asked you to explain how the dead rose and started murdering people. We just except that it’s a device being used to get us to those lurid moments that thrill us. But if you’re going to write a story that tackles issues of current events, personal loss, and the overall human condition using horror elements as a backdrop for this allegory, then please develop that story so that it delivers the message and has some kind of conclusion.

This is my problem with modern filmmaking as a whole. Everyone wants to be an auteur. Everyone wants to make art. But everyone also wants to make money so they put in enough pandering half narratives so that people who think of themselves as educated or intellectuals can bullshit up a meaning after they’ve watched the movie while people who just want to see an action flick can enjoy the non-stop barrage of flashing lights and shaking cameras. It’s a hat on a hat and it never looks good.

Now, I’ve said spoken my peace about the awful storytelling. Let me tell you about the amazing practical and CGI monsters that we got from Army of the Dead. For starters, zombie tiger. Let me repeat that for the kids in the back. ZOMBIE. TIGER. It was every bit as cool as it sounds, and it fucked up Burt from Raising Hope in the most spectacular way possible. Honestly, it’s probably one of the best kills in the entire movie. The zombies themselves were a mixture of great and god awful with the “Alpha Queen” being the big stand out star of the living dead. While the make-up was nothing new, there was something unsettling about the way the actress wore it and brought it to life. The only time I felt even a little creeped out or unnerved was when she was on screen, moving with this primal, rage-fueled elegance. Of course, seeing her severed head, eyes and jaws still moving and emoting right up until she ate pavement was also unnerving.

The other bright spot to Army of the Dead was Tig Notero who, as always, played Tig Notero attached to some character name. Playing one of the two comic relief characters in the movie, I can’t help but feel like everything is made better by that dry, sarcastic sense of humor.

Army of the Dead was entertaining for the zombies, the gore, and the Planet of the Apes style evolution that Zack Snyder tried to create for the living dead. As a whole, the movie has zero rewatch value unless you intend to skip to your favorite scenes and fast forward through all of the poorly executed plot. Everything evolves. The zombie in pop culture certainly has. The technology of filmmaking and creature effects have. But in a lot of ways I feel like Zack Snyder’s storytelling abilities have taken a drastic step backwards. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s an awful story masked by bright colors and fast monsters. I’ll let you decide.

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