Wrestling icon Dave Bautista takes on the zombies

FilAm actor Dave Bautista plays former mercenary Scott Ward: Highly entertaining.

By Wendell Gaa

It is enthralling to see how our own fellow FilAm Dave Bautista has evolved from a WWE wrestling icon into a growing force in mainstream Hollywood as a leading action hero.  Although I never followed his career closely at the WWE, I grew fond of his stature as a pop cultural cinematic figure in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films as the lovable antihero alien Drax the Destroyer. He also appeared as a villainous henchman in the 2015 James Bond film “Spectre” opposite Daniel Craig.  His new zombie action-heist film “Army of the Dead” was just recently released on Netflix.

Of all the horror genre movie monsters, arguably no other group of boogeymen have captivated the imagination in quite the way zombies have, mindless and ravenous flesh-eating creatures which have often served as a metaphor for the self-destructive nature of mankind upon its own society.  From the classic “Night of the Living Dead” film series dating back to the 1960s all the way through to the early 2010s when pop culture was once again infused with mass fascination for these undead beings due in large part to the popularity of “The Walking Dead” TV series and films such as “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt, it seems as if Hollywood will never grow weary of bringing these soulless creatures to life.  The ongoing global COVID pandemic has seemingly brought on new symbolism to zombies and the urgent need for humanity to come together to effectively “contain” the threat of death and sickness.

“Army of the Dead” isn’t an original or revolutionary story by any stretch of the imagination; it is quite formulaic.  But it is highly entertaining, and the brooding visuals and gory costume makeup are exactly what you would expect from the slow-moving style of director Zack Snyder, who also helmed the historic-action ancient Greek period epic “300” and the DC superhero movies “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.”  This isn’t a film though I would recommend for everybody, especially for those not fans of the horror-zombie film.  It is worth watching for those who seek pure escapist thrill and fun. Seeing Bautista coming into his own as a bona fide lead action star is by itself rewarding.   

Ella Purnell is Ward’s daughter Kate who joins his mission to recover a casino vault from zombie-infested Vegas.

The film’s setting is none other than glitzy Las Vegas which has now been overrun by an apocalyptic horde of zombies. They are led by an alpha male and female who are shockingly and highly evolved in strength, speed and intelligence.  As the entire gambling oasis city has now been quarantined by the U.S. military, a casino owner by the name of Bly Tanaka recruits former mercenary Scott Ward (Bautista) to recover $200 million from his casino vault before the entire Vegas is scheduled to be obliterated by the military in a nuclear strike in order to end the zombie threat. 

Ward accepts the task and in turn puts together his own ragtag team of soldiers to take part in the heist.  This team consists of an international group consisting of Mexican, German, and French members, not all of whom have a military background.  Further complicating Ward’s mission is the demand of his own estranged daughter Kate (played by English actress Ella Purnell) to join them on their mission so that she could rescue two friends of hers trapped in the middle of the quarantine zone.   

Watching how the team’s mission unfolds is engaging and their stunt choreography in their battles is quite well done. But a big problem I had with the film’s execution was its lack of effective character progression for much of the team members, save for Ward and his daughter.  Their father-daughter relationship is very similar to other film character interactions which you may have seen before in such action films as “Armageddon” (with Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler in the father-daughter role), but Bautista’s emotional range in his scenes with Purnell is so believable and emphatic that you are willing to align yourself wholeheartedly with him to complete his mission, protect his daughter and save humanity at any cost.  It is a pity that such effective character growth didn’t come across quite as effectively with the rest of the cast members.  And it surely doesn’t help that the film’s long running time doesn’t devote to such character progression as much as it could have.

Notwithstanding such shortcomings, “Army of the Dead” is still a highly enjoyable treat worth seeing for Bautista’s further ascendency as an all-around action hero with a true heart and soul.  I would say that his dramatic performance here is even deeper and more flawed and vulnerable than his other popular cinematic alter ego Drax the Destroyer.  We can be happy to be reminded that he is one of us and is definitely fighting on our side. 



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