Zack Snyder has officially closed the book on Superman... and is re-opening the book on zombies. Seventeen years after making his directorial debut with a hit reboot of Dawn of the Dead, Snyder returns to the horror genre with Netflix's Army of the Dead, which opens in theaters on May 14 before arriving on the streaming service on May 21.
But as the just-released trailer for the movie shows, this isn't just a zombie flick: it's also an Ocean's Eleven-style heist picture, right down to the Las Vegas setting. "Zombie movies can combine many different genres," Snyder said during a virtual Q&A following the trailer premiere, citing John Carpenter classics like Escape From New York and The Thing as direct influences. "I really got obsessed with the idea of playing with the tropes and the accepted rules of the zombie world." (Watch the trailer above.)
Snyder wrote the initial script for Army of the Dead after Dawn of the Dead, with the original intention of handing it off to another director to film. But he returned to the screenplay following his turbulent experience in the DC Extended Universe and decided to give it a ground-up rewrite before shooting it himself. Set in the wake of a zombie outbreak that consumed Vegas — leaving the city walled off from the rest of the country — the film follows mercenary-turned-short order cook Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), as he organizes a crack team to accomplish an impossible mission: breaking into a casino vault and making off with the $200 million inside.
Scott's crew includes his own estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), plus his equally-estranged ex, Cruz (Ana de la Reguera); German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer); philosopher-warrior Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick); and bad-ass wiseacre Marianne (Tig Notaro). Thanks to an assist from an expert Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) getting into Vegas proves to be the easy part — what they find there is another story altogether. It turns out that a zombie society has evolved since the fall of Sin City, with two separate undead classes forming: "shamblers," your garden-variety zombies, and "alphas," sentient creatures who hunt in packs. "They're like wolves," Snyder explains, adding that they can even do something unheard of for the walking dead: open doors.
With apologies to Bautista and his robbers-for-hire, the real star of Army of the Dead is a zombie tiger named Valentine, which Snyder unleashes in the final moments of the trailer. And Valentine isn't the only four-legged animal roaming around Vegas — the director teases the appearance of zombie horses and zombie dogs. "The only creatures immune from the zombie virus are birds," he explains. "That was the one thing we decided in our 'science.' If birds could get the zombie virus, it would be problematic."
Unlike Justice League, the version of Army of the Dead that's premiering in theaters next month is the official Snyder Cut. "I didn't have to fight [Netflix]," Snyder says, taking a swipe at his former employers at Warner Bros, which brought in Joss Whedon to release the controversial theatrical cut of the DCEU's marquee team-up movie. "There are no other cuts of this movie. You don't have to see a bastardized version — you get to see the awesome version first."
Furthermore, Snyder sold Netflix on letting him build out an extended zombie universe at the same time that Warner Bros. has made it clear that the DCEU is moving on from the Snyderverse. Besides the feature-length Army of the Dead, the streaming service will also release an animated prequel that reveals how the zombie outbreak originated, as well as the live-action short Army of Thieves that tells Dieter's origin story. Snyder teases the possibilities of more sequels down the line that continue to evolve his take on the walking dead. "I think zombies are ripe for a little bit of reinvention," he says. "That's what we're tackling with this."
Over on Twitter, Snyder's fans are ready to meet his reinvented zombies — especially that tiger.
Army of the Dead premieres May 14 in theaters and May 21 on Netflix.
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