Why Snyder’s Biggest Zombie Change Works (Despite Losing Their Meaning)
Snyder breaks away from a lot of genre conventions in Army of the Dead— here’s why his zombies still work, despite moving away from their meaning.
Zack Snyder sheds a lot of genre conventions in Army of the Dead; but despite the big change he makes to his zombies, they still manage to work. Snyder’s Army of the Dead zombies are faster and more intelligent than the average zombie. While this might not be reminiscent of the traditional meaning behind zombies, Snyder’s changes serve more purpose than just trying to make zombies a little cooler.
In popular culture, zombies have long been used to represent consumerism. Zombies are slow, mindless, ambling masses who have one primary function; consuming. While zombies might consume flesh, they’re frequently used as a criticism of modern society and represent humanity’s mindless need to consume. Dawn of the Dead is a famous example of this representation — the film is even set in a shopping mall to further drive the point home. Snyder, however, breaks away from this traditional allegory in Army of the Dead.
While Snyder’s zombies deviate from the usual, they’re a refreshing addition to a genre that can be plagued with cliches and repetition, but they still pay homage to their metaphorical roots. Army of the Dead features an entire zombie hierarchy made up of Alphas and Shamblers. With this hierarchy we see a twist on the usual zombie commentary; Zeus and the other Alphas clearly run Las Vegas, and the Shamblers exist to be used at his disposal. Zeus and the Alphas represent the top 1% of a consumerist society while the Shamblers represent the “mindless” masses who are sacrificed to keep the elite in power. A consumerist society cannot exist without those at the top who benefit from the system. Snyder’s zombies don’t just critique the consumers – Army of the Dead critiques the entire capitalist system by focusing on the Alphas at the top. The zombie kingdom is even set in Las Vegas, the shining pinnacle of capitalist consumerism.
Snyder’s reinvented zombies also tap into one of humanity’s greatest fears; being replaced as the apex predator. Humans have been on the top of the food chain for so long that the thought of losing that position to a more advanced species greatly unsettles us. Pop culture has been rampant with stories with apocalyptic movies, books, and games revolving around this theme. Whether it be zombies, aliens (War of the Worlds), or even monkeys (Planet of the Apes), the idea of a superior species overtaking humanity is terrifying. When humanity wants a scare, we imagine the predators that could overtake us.
Snyder’s improved zombies also play into the overarching theme of Army of the Dead. The story of the movie surrounds loss; the loss of lives and the loss of an entire city. Snyder’s reinvented zombies possess the ability to feel — something that isn’t usually associated with zombies — which makes Zeus’ loss of his Queen and their unborn child hit even harder. A zombie having the emotional intelligence to grieve is a striking change from the usual narrative. It’s in this presence of loss and emotion in Army of the Dead’s zombies that Snyder’s changes show their true colors.