Check: A zombie outbreak causes Las Vegas to be cut off from the rest of the United States. The walled city is considered destroyed by the US government. Your solution? Launch a nuclear bomb and kill all the zombies at once. I can’t argue with that. However, before being bombed, former casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to break into the quarantine zone and retrieve money from his casino vault. Scott is tasked with assembling a team to find his way into the zombie-filled city, reach the casino, break into the vault, and fly off in an abandoned helicopter. Easy peasy. But the stakes rise when Scott rallies his team when his daughter Kate Ward (Ella Purnell) decides to join him on his own personal mission.
Even though some of the character build is squeezed between the action pieces, Scott’s team and individual personalities create an intriguing team dynamic. Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro) and Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer) provide comic relief, while Lilly The Coyote (Nora Arnezedar) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) bring the aggression expected of trained soldiers. But the separated father-daughter relationship between Scott and Kate is the film’s emotional anchor amid all the gore, gore, and general chaos. Huma Qureshi plays a crucial role as Geeta. Dave Bautista continues to amaze with his acting range, and he’s definitely poised to headline more action movies.
It helps that most of the crew are a group of generally new faces, because it makes their fates unpredictable, and the script certainly takes advantage of that. Zack Snyder takes on co-writing, producing, cinematography and directing duties, and his touch is prominent throughout. Though typically forgiving, his use of slow motion is considerably more measured here, accentuating the narrative rather than just being gratuitous. He also makes the movie distinctively his own, combining clever, out-of-focus camera work with flawless special effects and compelling zombie makeup.
Snyder takes an exciting approach to his storytelling and makes his presentation engaging. Even the opening credits add to the story. The movie is still a bit long, almost two and a half hours. But for the most part, Snyder’s motley cast keeps him interesting. There is also a hierarchy of zombies, which adds some intrigue and more tension to the story. The faster, smarter zombies and one “couple” in particular add an unexpected element of depth to their otherwise purposeful meanders.
The film is reminiscent of other sci-fi action horror movies. Still, Snyder’s attempt to build his zombie franchise is off to a good start.