Director Zack Snyder, whose recently released, re-cut four-hour version of Justice League excited his fan base, elevates Army of the Dead with visionary flourishes and gory zombie verve.
Hollywood's symphony of flesh-eating violence has become all-too-familiar but Snyder renews interest by enlarging the obvious and tossing a couple of genres (zombie and caper films) into a blood-splashed blender.
After a nifty prologue, the story begins in earnest. Casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires Dave Bautista's Scott Ward to enter quarantined Las Vegas, a city that has been overrun by zombies. The job: to survive the undead predators and retrieve $200 million Tanaka left in a vault at one of his hotels.
To accomplish his task, Ward assembles a hard-boiled crew consisting of Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), who previously worked as mercenaries with Ward. Also along for the ride are a wiseass helicopter pilot (Tig Notaro), a safecracker (Matthias Schweighofer), and a sniper (Raul Castillo).
Lily (Nora Arnezeder) leads the group through the wreckage. She works as a coyote smuggling folks into the forbidden zone.
Ward's daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) also joins the zombie-fighting entourage. She doesn't get along with her dad but wants to rescue her pal Geeta (Huma Qureshi), a woman who's stuck in Vegas and has no idea that a super-lethal clock is ticking.
To put a halt to the zombie apocalypse, the US has committed to nuking Vegas on the Fourth of July. When the deadline is moved up, the invaders are left with only hours to grab the money and run.
Not all the zombies are staggering, mindless chompers. Zeus (Richard Crettonne), the roaring king of the zombies, is deeply offended when his queen (Athena Perample) loses her head, which one of Ward's crew keeps for reasons that I won't reveal here.
Part caper movie, part dystopian nightmare, part spoof, and part barrage of automatic weapons fire, the movie delivers a satirical blow to an easy target, a Las Vegas complete with its own zombie Elvis impersonators and a ferocious zombie tiger named Valentine.
Snyder, who directed 2004's Dawn of the Dead, also served as cinematographer for Army of the Dead, which allows him to take part credit for some of the movie's teeming canvas: Zombie hordes, ravaged casinos, and hotels reduced to rubble create an unruly backdrop of decay.
Army of the Dead is designed to be part of a franchise. I don't know how I feel about the prospect of more of these movies but this one allows Snyder to assemble an overflow of genre ingredients and give them a swift, often amusing kick -- providing, of course, that you can consider anything about a movie that lasts for two hours and 28 minutes to be "swift."