Whenever a professional wrestler breaks out in Hollywood, there’s a certain level of support that comes with their career from the wrestling fans. We’ve seen plenty wrestlers go into acting before, to varying degrees of success: Roddy Piper in They Live, Hulk Hogan in all sorts of films, The Rock, John Cena, Triple H, Big Show and so many more.
Dave Bautista was one of the surprises for me where I didn’t peg him as a future movie star, but his career has worked out pretty damn well. I don’t watch all of his films, but what I’ve seen him in, I’ve liked his work. So when it was announced that he was the lead in a Zack Snyder funny looking action zombie film, Army of the Dead, I figured it was a guaranteed watch.
To spice things up a bit here at EWN, let’s branch out a bit from talking solely about professional wrestling and talk about one of the crossover elements. If you’re interested in seeing this film and checking out Batista’s latest endeavor, should you? Or, should you skip it and save the time?
I went ahead and watched it for the first time for a FanTracks podcast over on my Fanboys Anonymous site/channel (so check that out if you want to get my live first impressions throughout the film) and now that I’ve had some time to think about it, here’s my overall assessment.
SHORT BUT SWEET SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:
I don’t think the trailers did this film justice. My impression was that it would be more of a funny action film that didn’t take itself too seriously. Instead, it ended up being quite the opposite.
I’m more of a fan of serious movies than “quirky for the sake of it” types. Typically, if something can be described as “so good that it’s bad”, I don’t like it. However, that doesn’t mean I only appreciate uber-serious motion pictures and art house dramas and the like. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is my favorite film of all time, but I think The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather are the two best films of all time. Just as much, I’d rather watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights than The Graduate if I’m in the mood for a comedy, if you catch my drift. That’s just to set up where I’m coming from with my personal tastes.
I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was hoping because I went into it with expectations that it would be a funny action flick and it turns out, that’s not the case. Instead, it takes itself way too seriously, but it’s not good enough to pull off that drama. In the end, it just falls short of both things it could have been, meaning I was left feeling blah.
WARNING – SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON
The visuals are pretty great, all things considered. Zombies can be very hit or miss in these types of films and if they cheap out on those special effects, it typically ruins everything. No problem with that at all.
Bautista is rock solid. He’s come a long way in his acting and he was able to hold the lead for this film rather well. I think he made the right decision taking on this role rather than a cameo of sorts in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. This could go a long way in helping him get better acting roles going forward.
Some of the characters had some charm to them. Mind you, I’m saying some had some, not all had a lot of charm. For the most part, the villains of the film were characters I wanted to see get killed, so they pulled that off effectively, as an example.
I like the premise. For those who don’t know, it’s that there was a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, which has been bordered off. A nuclear strike is going to wipe out the area, so Bautista and his team are hired to go break into a vault and get millions of dollars. That’s a rather airtight plot on paper. It’s where other elements get peppered in that ruin it.
If you hear the name Zack Snyder and think this is going to be an hour and a half of slow motion, you’d be pleased to know he doesn’t indulge in that quite so much. For 2 and a half hours, he doesn’t have the time.
Nearly all of the characters aren’t likable enough. In particular, Bautista’s daughter in the film, Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell) is supposed to be the moral high ground we root for more than anyone else, but she comes off insufferable, instead.
Likewise, she falls into the trap of wanting so badly not to be the damsel in distress that she has multiple moments throughout the film meant solely to “prove she’s more of a badass than you might think” while still ultimately needing to be saved and making a mess out of things. I hate those types of characters.
In fact, most of the characters are rather one-note. Outside of the two main human villains (Burt Cummings, played by Theo Rossi, who was so good as Shades in Luke Cage, and Garret Dillahunt’s Martin), there isn’t much character to go around.
Tig Notaro’s character, the pilot, who has a name I can’t even remember because she’s pretty much “the sassy pilot” is only in a few scenes and not fleshed out. Ana de la Reguera plays Maria Cruz, who is there to be “one of the potential love interests and lead women who doesn’t get to say or do much, nor fully connect with Bautista enough to make me care about her.” The Coyote was a bigger presence and they should have maybe merged those characters.
Omari Hardwick’s Vanerohe is just another guy. He’s cool, but I can’t tell you anything about him. I know Dieter is a fun enough character that didn’t get more time to play around, and that Guzman and Chambers were more fodder and I didn’t get to experience as much with them as I wanted. The same could have been the case for Sergeant Kelly (Michael Cassidy). Or, hell, the zombies themselves!
The story beats are rather run of the mill. While there are a few moments of surprise, doing something before it was expected, it doesn’t truly subvert many tropes.
If you focus on those characters, you can easily start to get annoyed that people aren’t following logic. Like any horror film, you have to suspend your disbelief so much and just allow yourself to go with the flow, rather than think “You idiot, why aren’t you doing XYZ?” or you’ll end up just getting frustrated at Kate and Geeta and others in the movie.