Zack Snyder reconnects with joy of movie-making with Army Of The Dead
Army Of The Dead is the work of a Zack Snyder not seen for some time.
It is colourful, vibrant and, according to the 55-year-old US director, "a love letter to movies".
It has been a decade since he released a film not based on an existing property.
After 2011's Sucker Punch, he helmed the big-screen exploits of DC superheroes in a franchise noted for its darker take on the characters.
But after he and his producer-wife Deborah Snyder suffered the tragedy of their teenage daughter's suicide in 2017, they understandably stepped away from the noise of Hollywood.
While he put together the infamous four-hour "Snyder Cut" of Justice League for HBO earlier this year, Army Of The Dead is his full return to movie-making, and he does appear reinvigorated, even taking on multiple roles on set.
The movie is peppered with pop culture references of Snyder's influences - such as fantasy artist Frank Frazetta - and even callbacks to his previous films, such as the title music by lounge act Richard Cheese who featured in 2004's Dawn Of The Dead.
While he would not say that it came from a need to cut free, Snyder said in a Zoom interview from Los Angeles the film represented a rekindling of his love of cinema.
"I was really trying to reconnect with the joy of making movies - even in the processes, being the director, cinematographer and camera operator. It was a complete cinematic immersion for me. Not to mention the genre deep dive, including the tropes - every bit of it is a love letter to movies in general," he said.
While Army Of The Dead is set in a post-outbreak Las Vegas that has been turned into a corral of the undead, the real Sin City was not available to be overrun by zombies.
"We couldn't get into the actual casinos so we went to abandoned casinos that had lost their gaming licence in Atlantic City (in New Jersey) and brought in our own slot machines and recreated it from scratch.
"But Atlantic City was fun. It is like a miniature Vegas anyway."
While the film is high on action, and as with any zombie film, you should not get too attached to any one character, Army Of The Dead has an emotional side.
Snyder chose Dave Bautista as much for his "inner sadness and vulnerability" as his "formidable" physicality.
"Scott's a broken dude, who just wants to fix this relationship with his daughter. He made a mistake and he just wants redemption."
The emotional weight is not just on Bautista's shoulders.
Snyder also introduces the smarter, stronger "alpha zombie" Zeus (Richard Cetrone).
Giving a zombie more character was essential to his new undead vision.
"I am hoping you will feel sympathetic towards the zombies. The best monster movies are where you find yourself showing compassion for the monster.
"So with Zeus, you could find yourself thinking, 'Damn these humans. You need to leave these zombies alone.'
"I thought it would be a neat trick if I could pull it off." - JONATHAN ROBERTS