Army of the Dead

Safecracking during the zombie apocalypse

movie cinema horror review

Las Vegas has been quarantined due to a zombie outbreak, and the USA plans on dropping a low-yield nuke to clear everything up. But there's 250 million dollars locked in a safe beneath a world-famous casino. Let's go in and retrieve the money!

It's a really good setup, 80% Escape from New York and 20% Ocean's 11. And there are some really clever gimmicks in the movie.

Ultimately, though, it's a pretty boring movie that's too long and awkwardly paced. That said, I'd watch it again, so it's one of those movies I don't love but also don't hate. It's less forgettable thanks to its excellent [actual] prequel, Army of Thieves, which I'll review in my next movie post.

Opening and the non-existent prequel

The opening sequence, ironically set to the song "Viva Las Vegas", shows the events of, essentially, a prequel that doesn't exist. There's a whole movie during the opening credits. Zombies attack casinos, a few desperate survivors arm themselves and blast their way out of Vegas moments before the final cement-filled storage container is dropped into place to form a makeshift quarantine barrier around the city.

It's a disorienting but strong intro. By the time the movie starts, you feel a little like you've already sat through the movie, but it really works. When we see one of the heroes of the opening credits working as a short order cook in a diner, we understand. A big world-changing event happened, it didn't destroy all life as we know it, so life went back to normal, for better or for worse.

Mostly worse.

The proposal is simple. Sneak into Vegas, get past the zombies, open the safe, get to the abandoned rescue chopper on the roof of the casino, and fly to safety before the nuke is dropped.

Into the fray

The main dude, whose name I don't think I ever learned, assembles a team consisting partly of people from the credit sequence survivors, with a few others selected out of last-minute talent scouting. You don't really care about most of them, and neither does the movie. They don't each have a special skill or role and are pretty much all obvious cannon fodder.

At least, that's what you think. When the team finally gets into Vegas, there are no zombies to be found. No shambling masses pressing against the barriers, nobody wandering the streets. It's a ghost town.

Zombies eventually appear, and there are some surprising interactions, but it's not the first-person shooter slaughter we saw in the credits. It turns out that a social structure has emerged, a little like in Dawn of the Dead, among the zombies. As the no-nonsense mercenary who's been in and out of Vegas says, "Vegas isn't their prison, it's their kingdom."

OK, so we're focusing on tension. Things will slowly ramp up until things reach a breaking point, and then scary things will happen.

At least, that's what you start to hope. What actually happens is that our heroes walk around undead Vegas with a few scary interactions, a little bit of shooting, a few nibbles here and there.

For me, nothing quite clicks into place in the story, though. At some point, the team splits up. It's inexplicable why they do this. They go off in pairs, with the least two trustworthy members of the team wandering around outside to I guess catch a zombie?

The helicopter pilot goes to the roof. They leave her alone up there because, well, for a hotbed of zombie infestation, there's very little zombie activity. The zombies mostly stay at home in the Olympus Casino and let the heroes get to work on cracking the safe.


And then it happens. Zombies emerge, and they're angry. At the same time, the USA decides to advance the bomb schedule by 24 hours. Instead of a day, our team has 90 minutes.

Worse still, the super-obvious plant among the heroes, included in the team by the mysterious rich quest-giver, finally reveals his brilliant plan. Apparently his only goal was to get the head of a zombie to take back for study. Once he has that, he inexplicably decides safety in numbers is overrated. He locks our heroes out of the stairwell and proceeds up to the ceiling alone. I know that in real life, evil doesn't need to be rational

Now things are sure to get exciting.

At least, that's what you'd think after multiple life-or-death ultimatums have been announced. And to be fair, things start to happen. Zombies do attack, people do mention that a bomb is about to attack, but they also stop carrying money to the chopper so they can confess their love for one another, or to chat about Richard Wagner, or chat about what kind of restaurant to open with all their money. This, with twenty minutes to obliteration.

In the end, the chopper takes off with a few survivors, but there's still 9 minutes on the clock to use for a last minute rescue mission for an old friend who snuck into Vegas a few days ago to loot slot machines. Zombies and people are slaughtered, the main players get away.

Or do they Well, they don't because it's a zombie movie, and even those who do get away are doomed because somebody gets out of Vegas after the bomb drops. One our heroes got locked in the safe, and emerges with a couple of million dollars in his backpack. He rents a private jet by throwing some money around, and takes to the skies to spread the infection far away from lost Vegas.

An OK movie

Not a terrible movie. Not a great zombie movie. I'd watch it again in a pinch because I really like the concepts. The prequel is a better movie, but not really a zombie movie. This one's OK, but it's longer than it wants to be, and a couple of breaches of good sense makes it difficult to stay invested throughout the whole story.

Lead photo by Anika De Klerk on Unsplash

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