This is obvious during the opening credits of the film, which may very well be the movie’s highlight. With Las Vegas under siege by the undead, we get a wonderful sequence of everything going to hell. Some might mistakenly feel it’s apiece with another 2000s zombie movie classic, Zombieland, which showed via slow motion vignette how zombies took over the world. However, Army of the Dead more overtly homages Snyder’s own Dawn of the Dead and then builds from that foundation.
The first major wink and nudge comes from the song choice. While Snyder elects to use an old standby for any movie set in Sin City, “Viva Las Vegas,” it is not Elvis Presley’s iconic rendition. Instead, we’re listening to Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe offer their own modern vocal stylings on the classic.
Cheese, the face of an intentionally comedic lounge act, has spent decades offering swinging covers to traditionally un-swinging tunes. That memorably includes his jazzy rendition of Disturbed’s “Get Down with the Sickness,” a heavy metal song with nihilistic implications. Cheese’s cover came to mainstream prominence, too, thanks to Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.
In that 2004 film, we hear Cheese singing, “Get ready to die!” with maximum joyfulness as the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse find a bizarre definition for their “new normal” inside of a shopping mall with hordes of the undead outside.
For Army of the Dead, Snyder asked Cheese and Crowe to specifically cover Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” a song that was always meant to be a lounge act. However, the new version has added menace in 2021 since it’s now recorded with a self-aware detachment about the horrible images we are witnessing: zombie strippers murdering their customer in the bathtub; a paratrooper descending into a flesh-hungry mob ready to devour him whole; Vegas’ mini-Eiffel Tower crushing a poor old Zombie Elvis impersonator—killing him all over again.
The Army of the Dead opener also tells a grim story about how society both descends and stays the same. Unlike Zombieland, we follow a wordless narrative in the opening credits as a mercenary we later learn is Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) goes on a mission to save the Secretary of Defense. In the end, he gets the prized asset out, but the little girl his team also stumbles upon ends up crushed by the makeshift wall the U.S. government is forming around the city: a literal body in the foundation of this new world (which, by the by, alludes to a line of dialogue in Watchmen).