Zombie heist flick ‘Army of the Dead’ was cathartic for Zack Snyder

Vanessa A. Balbuena (The Freeman) - May 13, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  The best zombie movies,

if you ask Zack Snyder, provide social commentary – as with his 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.”

And while eerie parallelisms to the current times run aplenty in his latest flick, “Army of the Dead,” the blockbuster filmmaker would be in equal parts glad whether you come in searching for mythological representations, mining the plot for political messages, or simply looking to have a blast with the undead.

“The movie’s sort of custom-made for viewers of all kinds. If you want to just have fun for two hours and 20-plus minutes, then by all means,” Snyder said in a recent virtual conference for Asia Pacific media outlets that included The FREEMAN.

“If you want to write your Master’s thesis about the zombie genre, how they socially represent us, whether it be holding up a mirror to ourselves or how we interact in casinos, that’s fine too. If you want to talk about this wall and refugee camps, that’s also a movie for you. Or if you’re excited about the heist part, or the father-daughter relationship…that’s what I want the movie to be.”

In “Army of the Dead,” which streams May 21 on Netflix, a zombie outbreak has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a displaced Vegas local, former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: Break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours.

Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist.

They include Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), an ace mechanic and Ward’s old friend; Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a zombie killing machine; Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a cynical helicopter pilot; Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a go-for-broke influencer and Chambers (Samantha Win), his ride-or-die; Martin (Garret Dillahunt), the casino’s head of security; a badass warrior known as the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) who recruits Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi), a slimy security guard; and a brilliant German safe cracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer).

Scott finds an unexpected emotional hurdle when Kate joins the expedition to search for Geeta (Huma S. Qureshi), a mother who’s gone missing inside the city. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.

Written by Snyder (who also served as director of photography), together with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, “Army of the Dead” felt like a reconnection to cinema for the director behind “300,” “Man of Steel,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

“Because doing these giant superhero movies, you get further and further away from the camera. Just shooting this movie was a joyous experience. The process of making the film was incredibly satisfying,” he shared.

With “Dawn” based on another film, Snyder enjoyed creating his own world from scratch and presenting a zombie universe that audiences have yet to see.

Amidst the blood and bombast, Snyder, 55, said that at the core of the film is the father-daughter relationship that evolved in the writing process as he was also evolving in his personal life. (In 2017, Snyder departed from the star-studded superhero epic “Justice League” after his daughter’s suicide.)

“When I was writing those scenes between Kate and Scott, my experience with my own children played a huge role. And just the catharsis…your children can hurt you with a word worse than anybody.”

He added, “But they can also bring you joy. Your greatest sorrow, and your greatest pain can come from your children. Your greatest highs and your greatest lows. I just thought that and brought all of that pain and joy to writing this relationship between Scott and Kate.”

Fleshing out that poignant journey of a father is Fil-Am wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista who at first was disinclined to do another “action thing.”

“I love Dave. Dave and I have been talking for years about trying to make movies together. And I asked him about this. He wasn’t sure. I go, ‘Read the script.’ After he read it, he goes, ‘I didn’t realize that I had this huge emotional journey to go through.’”

“Scott’s journey is really emotional. I’m gonna take for granted that he can kill a zombie. He plays this broken character that wants to reconnect with his daughter. And that part, he does an amazing job at.”

With “Army of the Dead” proving there’s still so much more to explore in the genre, where does Snyder see the flesh-chomping creatures wreak havoc on next?

“I’m sure thousands of genius creative people are going to come up with other amazing iterations or stories…zombies in Ancient Rome, in Napoleonic France, or in the future,” said Snyder, who is currently working on an animated prequel that tells the zombies’ origin story.

“For me, I know where I want to take it. And it’s pretty crazy. So let’s see.”

As if a “goddamn” zombie tiger isn’t crazy enough.

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