Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this edition, we explore the final waves of Zack Snyder’s zombie heist film, Army of the Dead. Prepare for spoilers.
What’s better than a good heist movie? Easy. A good zombie heist movie. Nearly a decade after his feature debut, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zack Snyder has finally returned to zombie movies in the best possible way. Army of the Dead reminds us that the zombie movie is still alive and well in 2021 (well… maybe “alive” is the wrong word, but you know what we mean). It also carries a sentimental undertone that might prove a movie about the undead can resonate with us more than we expect.
The film takes place in a future where Las Vegas has been subject to a zombie takeover and is accordingly about to be nuked by the government. Casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) recruits ex-mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to infiltrate the barricaded city, retrieve $200 million from his vault, and get out before the city turns to ashes. And they have to do it all while being stalked by mega-smart zombies. Easy enough, right?
But while Scott and his team are in the heart of zombie-infested Vegas, a wrench is thrown in the master plan. It turns out that Bly didn’t actually want the crew there to salvage the measly $200m. Rather, he had them infiltrate the area so his right-hand man, Martin (Garret Dillahunt) can steal the head of the queen zombie — a prize worth billions as its DNA can be used for numerous lucrative purposes.
Lilly, aka “The Coyote” (Nora Arnezeder), catches wind of the evil plan and steals the severed head from Martin. But despite this small victory, the team is still in for a bumpy ride. The government makes a last-minute plan to move the bombing up 24 hours so it doesn’t coincide with the fourth of July. With only ninety minutes to unlock the vault, snag the money, get back to the helicopter, and get out of the zombie death zone, plans fall apart fast leading to bloody carnage and a heavy death toll.
It turns out that Las Vegas is a pretty unforgiving place. Most of the team gets killed leaving Scott, his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro), and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), but when Scott boards the helicopter with only minutes to spare, Kate is nowhere to be found. And what better time for a redemptive Dad arc? He races back for her and they make it in time… but his heroism has a price as a flesh-eater ends up in their cargo.
They make it out of Vegas in the nick of time, but Scott is bitten by the zombie, and Kate is forced to kill him. Meanwhile, Vanderohe leaves Vegas toting the money that made it out of the wreckage of blood, guts, and fire. He uses that money to rent a private jet and fly to Mexico, and everything seems peachy. That is until he starts feeling a little under the weather and looks down at a bite mark on his arm.
The ending of Army of the Dead is a cliffhanger of sorts but par for the zombie movie course. And, you know what that means… sequel alert! While a number of our favorite characters, like Scott, his love interest Maria (Ana de la Reguera), and Lilly, meet their gory and untimely end and won’t get the chance for an on-screen reprise, there are quite a few juicy storylines that could come to fruition in Army of the Dead 2.
The most obvious story for a sequel is Vanderohe. Not only have we become invested in him on a personal level, but now we are confronted with a bigger issue: the zombie plague is going to spread beyond Las Vegas. Based on his reaction when the stewardesses told him that he looked under the weather, it doesn’t seem as though Vanderohe is planning on sacrificing his life for the greater good of humanity — so look out Mexico!
And even if that somehow doesn’t happen, the possibility of a resurgence of zombies in the United States is still a problem. Bly is a powerful man who is dead set on creating his own zombie army. And even though Martin wasn’t able to retrieve the queen zombie’s head like Bly wanted him to, who’s to say he won’t figure out another way? Hell, maybe Vanderohe will chart a new course in the hope of delivering some revenge on Bly in person.
Not only does Army of the Dead offer up some pretty tasty sequel bait, but it also delivers on a theme about the importance of protecting and sticking up for our family. At the heart of the film is a tension between a father and his daughter, but the journey sees Scott make things right with Kate. Scott fights off the bloodthirsty zombies for the mission. But, more than anything, he does so for his daughter – to prove she’s the most important thing in his life. In the end, Scott dies, but he leaves behind the promise that he loves Kate. The end of Army of the Dead teaches us that, amid battles with the undead, double-crossings from team members, and a whole lot of cash on the line, the thing that’s really worth fighting for is other people.