Very spoilery on what happens, plus I talk about those threads left hanging. This is long but not as long as Zack’s movie. Click down to the bottom if you simply want a list of deaths in order… (My four star review is here.)
And if you don’t want to read the whole thing, TL,DR: never bet against the House, the House always wins.
The evil businessman
Casino owner Bly Tanaka is not really after the $200 million in his Vegas vault — he admits at the start he’s had an insurance payout anyway. He wants an Alpha head to sell to the government (or a government, as the Americans presumably created or discovered the creature originally) and appears to be working to order. He thinks they can use it to create a zombie army (do people never learn!) Tanaka’s head of security Martin is embedded with Ward’s team to bring back just that, under the pretence of helping them navigate the Bly Casino building where the vault is.
The zombie wars
Ward, Maria and Vanderohe fought together in the zombie wars, which appear to have been limited to Las Vegas. I don’t see how people could fight back against this kind of onslaught worldwide, or even America-wide, and the fighting we see during the introduction takes place there. In the 15-minute opening sequence we see it evacuating as the wall is built, with containers lowered from the air, and poor army parachutists slowly descending right into the waiting arms and mouths of thousands of the undead.
When you remember what Lilly said to Ward’s team when they got in there — that to the Alphas this is not their prison but their kingdom — it makes sense that the wars were confined to that area, with maybe the odd outbreak elsewhere. Guzman videoed himself killing shamblers on the outskirts of Vegas, and we know Lilly made a living taking people into the city to steal money from gambling machines. If humans can get in then zombies can get out, yet they don’t seem to.
Zeus: zombie 1.0
We don’t find out exactly what Zeus Zombie’s origins are. The convoy transporting him leaves Area 51 at the start of the film, and then crashes into a car containing a pair of newlyweds coming the other way (the bride is giving the groom a blow job. Oral sex causes zombie outbreaks, kids! Stay safe.)
Zeus escapes (why are government agencies so bad at packing? Get a mum with three kids and the world’s smallest baggage allowance in next time), and bites the surviving soldiers, who turn into zombies. We then see them looking from their vantage spot at the bright lights of Las Vegas below.
We don’t know if Zeus is part alien, though he could be, emerging from Area 51. He may be robotic too, as when Guzman shoots an Alpha in the casino scene there’s a flash of what looks like a blue electronic light and electronics under the ripped skin. Zeus’s zombaby, conceived with his undead queen, also pulsates with blue light.
My guess is that Zeus, looking down on Vegas at the start, is planning his new kingdom, not seeing it as a random place for dinner, or a starting point. He’s not a coloniser, planning to expand outwards; he’s looking for a home.
How aliens, AI robotics, undead babies and a zombie royal family fit together in this murky origins story is unclear. Maybe the Americans merged alien DNA with robotics and human DNA to create a super being. Or maybe alien DNA is a mixture of machine and biology. Maybe machines are their biology. Can a bite transmit a virus that makes you part man and part machine? Why does only Zeus have the “power” to create Alphas, with bites from other Alphas only creating shamblers? Is it a self-limiting virus or one designed to create an army not of mostly monsters but mostly worker bees? Why are they hierarchical? What happens “after the rain”? So many questions, so little time before my brain eats itself.
Now we’re talking (especially if we’re a decapitated zombie head)
Once in Bly Casino, the team find a set of vault blueprints identical to the ones Tanaka gave them — he’s obviously sent in previous teams, though Martin denies all knowledge. Ward splits everyone up, so they each get some screen time having a deep and meaningful chat with someone else.
Ward and Kate, starting the generator, have a heart to heart about their estrangement after he killed her zombie mum. Kate tells him it wasn’t that but his later actions when he ran away from their relationship that hurt so much, leaving her to grieve on her own. Maria and Peters are on the roof, trying to fix the junk chopper they find there.
Guzman and Vanderohe escort Dieter to the vault where the money is. There are some shamblers down there and Dieter gets his first kill. Vanderohe has to keep bringing zombies in, to be used to trigger the vault’s booby traps. Vanderohe and Dieter then bond over philosophical chit-chat.
Martin and Lilly go outside to board up the doors and keep watch but they are obviously looking for something. She fires her gun and soon the queen arrives. Lilly thinks he only wants a vial of her blood for Tanaka but he decapitates the queen with a wire and takes the still-talking head, informing Lilly that Tanaka can sell it and it can be used to build an army, the “ultimate WMD”. But Zeus has heard the queen’s screams and Lilly tells Martin once her body is found their trade will be off.
This is war!
After hearing her death cries, Zeus comes by on his zombie horse and finds the decapitated body of his queen. He weeps over her, listening to see if the zombaby she is carrying is dead. He clearly loved his queen, even if he showed it by sniffing her loudly (let him henceforth be known as Alpha Romeo).
He carries her back to Olympus and, watched by the Alphas, squelches into her body and pulls out the zombaby foetus. Under its mottled skin it pulsates with blue, like a machine.
It’s down by the vault that they find the bodies of a previous team sent in by Tanaka to retrieve the $200 million. Or are they? Vanderohe suggests they could be themselves, on a different timeline, in an infinite time loop, repeating their failures. The film moves between the dried-up bodies and Ward’s team. There’s a body wearing burgundy like Ward; another with a key on a neckchain like Maria; another wearing Peters’ patterned shirt. Tanaka, he says, is the puppet master, the devil, and god.
When Dieter cracks the vault lock mechanism, he says “the only thing that’s left is to turn the wheel. As it was inevitable that we won”. Typical Dieter, or does he know they would always break in to the vault on this circuit of the time loop? His words certainly make Lilly look up.
Maybe they are stuck in a loop, or maybe Vanderohe’s words are just a joke to remind us that we aren’t special or different. There are many disposable Wards, Peters and Marias out there.
The gang are back together!
Almost. Ward, Martin, Kate, Maria and Lilly watch TV in the casino, specifically the reports that the President is bringing the bombing of Las Vegas forward after criticism of his decision to do it on the 4th of July. Ward radios Peters that they now only have 90 minutes. They all go down to the vault, except Peters on the roof.
Love and monsters
Ward and Maria have a heart to heart. She’s always held a torch for him but he went off and left her (a pattern of his). He realises Kate has gone to Olympus to find Geeta. Outside Zeus emerges from Olympus on a horse followed by Alphas streaming out (yes this is a movie steeped in ancient Greek imagery), all heading for the Bly casino. Kate is hiding in a car as they run past. Behind Maria in the vault area, the lift door opens and Alphas stream in, one breaking her neck and killing her. Martin climbs out through a hatch and locks them in below, telling Lilly that Tanaka only wanted the head, not the money. He’s going up to the roof to kill Peters and fly himself out.
Zeus emerges from the lift shaft. He and Vanderohe have a fight, with Zeus having the upper hand. He lifts Vanderohe and comes in to bite him but — in slow motion — Dieter hits the zombie on the head, picks up Vanderohe and throws him in the vault. He then closes the vault door with him on the outside with Zeus. We have no proof Dieter is dead though. What if he’s alive, and what if he was the brains behind this all along? Maybe the funny, nerdy persona was just that, a persona?
Guzman, Lilly and Ward are trying to chainsaw / blow up a hole in the wall to escape. Up on ground level, Martin checks in his bag as the head has gone uncharacteristically quiet. He finds Lilly has taken the head and replaced it with something else. Valentine the zombie tiger is behind him; it attacks and mauls Martin, before eating his head.
Making their way up to the roof, Guzman, Lilly and Ward have to fight their way through the Alpha-filled casino. Guzman is taken down in a shower of money by what could well be half-men, half-robotic monsters (a little on the nose for a casino!) At least one has pulsating blue light behind its eye when the skin is ripped off.
He blows himself up with a grenade as they swarm him, giving Lilly and Ward time to get to the lift. Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me is playing, but Zeus is clearly not an ’80s music fan. He sees the flames and dying Alphas and makes his way to the roof.
Up there, though Peters has got the helicopter working, it splutters and dies just as Lilly and Ward arrive. Zeus appears, and Lilly takes out the queen’s head and threatens it with a gun. Lilly explains to Ward that Martin had told her if she helped him he’d let everyone out of the camps (oh Lilly!) Peters has the helicopter working again and Lilly tells them both to go. Zeus impales her on a wall with his spear and she drops the snarling head over the edge. It splatters below. Zeus approaches Lilly, presumably to bite and zombify her.
What happens to Geeta; that ending; and what happens to Geeta?
I know, I’m obsessed with a character who’s barely in it. We never see what happens to Geeta at the very end. When they first enter the Bly casino, Kate questions Lilly, discovering that previous people she’s taken in have been captured and held in the Olympus building until Zeus wants to bite them. One of her guys was thought to be dead but came walking out three days later, after escaping the room.
Having made her way to Olympus before the “swarming”, she finds Geeta there in the room with Sadie, one of the two women she went in with. The zombified guard Burt Cummings is on her tail, though.
They try to escape but Sadie is killed by Zombie Cummings. Zeus comes after them and unleashes a stream of Alphas along the corridor; Kate manages to shoot them all until only Zeus remains and he runs towards them, bullets bouncing off his metal helmet.
Ward has persuaded Peters to fly via Olympus so he can find Kate. She drops him on the roof and waits for him there; they only have 9 minutes until the bombing. He turns up just in time to save Kate and Geeta, and fires at Zeus. The three of them make it back to the roof but Peters has left — the nuclear explosion, brought forward by the President, is imminent.
Then they see Peters flying the helicopter back to them – thinking Zeus is dead they take their time getting on, sighing with relief, as he appears on the roof behind them. He leaps onto the taking-off helicopter and gets inside, fighting Ward while Peters tries to stay airborne and make it outside he city.
Ward is trying to shoot Zeus in the head but the gun falls out of his hands and to the edge of the helicopter. Peters is accidentally shot but can still fly. As they fly over the perimeter wall and away, they see the nuclear warhead arching up and over into the city. Geeta is staring at it in wonder. Kate smashes a fire extinguisher on Zeus’s head. Ward goes for the gun, as Zeus bites him. The nuclear bomb explodes, and a mushroom cloud rises in the distance. Everyone is temporarily blinded. Ward shoots Zeus in the head which explodes most satisfyingly. The helicopter is now out of control and we see Geeta for the last time as it hits the ground in clouds of grey smoke, crashing without bursting into flames.
Kate is thrown clear, and comes to. She sees Peters dead at the controls. Ward too has been thrown clear. He’s been bitten and he and Kate know what his means. He gives her a wodge of cash — not much but enough, he says, to buy Geeta’s children out of the quarantine camp. He then shuts his eyes and starts growling. Kate shoots him in the head then sinks to her knees and cries. In the background an army helicopter lands, presumably to rescue her.
Vanderohe-hoho! to Vandero-FUCK!
Back in the city, the explosion levels Bly tower. A door opens in the ground, and out climbs Vanderohe. He walks out of the city, presumably fully irradiated, finds a car at a local abandoned homestead and drives off with a few rucksacks of money from the vault.
Driving to an airfield in Utah, he hires a private plane to take him to Mexico City. On the plane, drinking champagne and attended to by two stewardesses, he starts feeling ill and his skin is freezing. He goes to the loo, looks in the mirror and sees he’s been bitten. “FUCK” he says to the mirror.
Before and after
There is no mid-credits scene and still no sign of Geeta. We are, though, all set up for a sequel as his plane heads in to land at the massive and sprawling Mexico City. I hope we get one. What we are definitely getting is a live action prequel called Army Of Thieves about Dieter, and an animated film set during the Las Vegas zombie wars with various characters from Army Of The Dead.
If there is a “proper” sequel, maybe we will find out what has happened to Geeta (and her children — I like to think they were on the last bus out of the camp to the new quarantine camp and are waiting there).
Maybe the radiation from the explosion will do something to Vanderohe making him immune to a bite, or perhaps make him even more of a super-Alpha? An A++ if you like. Maybe it will affect any surviving zombies in the city too, making them even stronger. Can they even be killed by a nuclear explosion if they are out of range of the incinerating centre of the blast? So many questions! Also what happens when it rains? We still don’t know!
1. Deaths, undeaths, and survivors
The only character we know who survives unbitten is Kate. Here are the other deaths, zombifications and brain explosions:
Abusive camp guard Burt Cummings: I’m putting him first but he actually dies properly near the end. I guess it depends where you think death occurs in a human who is bitten, zombified, then is shot in the head later. (See how many philosophical questions this movie throws up.) Almost as soon as they enter the city, he is shot (to wound, not to kill) by Lilly as a trade for the Alphas to guarantee their safe passage; she explains to the others that he’s a rapist who abused women in the quarantine camp. He’s dragged off by the zombie queen and another Alpha, and later bitten by Zeus and turned. Near the end Zombie Cummings reappears in the Olympus and Kate shoots him in the head.
Chambers (Guzman’s friend): Lilly tells them they need to move indoors so as to not antagonise the zombies. Once inside, Chambers tells Martin, Bly Tanaka’s head of security, she doesn’t trust him. As they are tiptoeing through hibernating shambler zombies, Ward is lighting their way with glow sticks — Martin moves one into another area, so Chambers, behind him, ends up in a mass of zombies. She tries to quietly stab them as they start waking up but there are too many and Martin shuts her in the room. She crashes through a window into the hallway followed by zombies and cannot be saved. As she’s overwhelmed, Guzman shoots her, exploding her gas tank in slow-mo and incinerating the surrounding zombies. (We are over an hour in by this stage. As often happens in movies, it’s like the last night of Big Brother: with the odd one picked off in the early stages then a bloodbath for the last night.)
Zombie Queen: Martin and Lilly are outside the Bly Casino keeping watch. The queen comes towards them and Martin captures her and decapitates her with a wire. She keeps talking though. He takes the head with him while Zeus takes her body back to Olympus.
Maria: she clearly has romantic history with Ward as well as experience fighting side by side with him. Down in the basement, after Dieter has opened the vault, she is talking to Ward as the lift doors open behind her and Alphas pour out. She’s killed — a zombie twists her head right round the other way — and slumps to the floor.
Dieter: as the Alphas come for the team, Martin shuts them in the basement where the vault is, with the zombies. Dieter pushes Vanderohe into the vault, shutting the door and leaving himself outside with Zeus. We don’t actually see what happens to him next though. He might be alive.
Evil Martin, head of security for Bly Takana: after shutting everyone remaining in the basement, evil Martin heads up to the lobby. He checks in the bag containing the Queen’s still-talking head. The head is gone and he’s then attacked by Valentine the zombie tiger from behind and mauled to death (his head is actually eaten).
Guzman: he, Lilly and Ward are fighting their way through the Alphas in the casino, desperate to get to the roof where Peters is waiting to fly them off. Guzman is eventually overwhelmed and when the zombies swarm him he sets off a grenade blowing up himself and many of the undead.
Lilly: she and Ward make it to the lift and up to the roof. She has the head in the bag. Zeus comes up, looking for it. He spears her, impaling her against a wall, and she throws the still-talking head off the edge. It hits the ground and splatters everywhere. Lilly is either killed by Zeus, dies quickly from her injuries, or is bitten by him and turns (the most likely outcome from the scene we see).
Zeus: on the helicopter, he fights with Ward who can’t get to his gun. Zeus bites Ward, but after the nuclear explosion Ward grabs his gun and shoot the zombie king in the head, which explodes.
Geeta: we don’t know. She is definitely in the helicopter and we see her looking at the missile as it arches over to its impact site in Las Vegas. We then see her trying to stay upright as the helicopter is battered by nuclear winds. When Kate wakes up and looks inside we see her clocking Peters but not Geeta. She may have survived the helicopter crash but probably didn’t. As far as we know, she is not bitten.
Marianne Peters: she is shot as Ward and Zeus struggle in the helicopter, though she can still fly — until the dust clouds from the nuclear explosion overwhelm them and the helicopter crashes. She dies on impact.
Ward: he is badly injured in the helicopter crash, and has anyway been bitten by Zeus, meaning he will turn into a fast, clever Alpha. After a sad last conversation with Kate, she shoots him in the head just as he turns.
Kate: she survives! She also has a wodge of money from her dad, enough to bribe the guards at the new camp so Geeta’s children will be released.
And who can forget… Damon! He walks out of the team’s first meeting with Tanaka, saying they’re all going to die. Sensible lad!
Army Of The Dead is streaming on Netflix (and was also released in UK cinemas) My four star review is here.