Just a few short months after the release of his hotly anticipated director's cut of Justice League, Zack Snyder returned to streaming screens with the release of Army of the Dead on Netflix. The film sees a ragtag band of soldiers, mercenaries, and other assorted butt-kickers fighting a horde of superhuman-esque zombies in an attempt to steal $50 million from an abandoned casino deep in the ruins of Las Vegas. (If anything, it's even wilder than it sounds.) Even though there's a ton going on in Army of the Dead, two characters have emerged as breakout fan favorites: Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), the latest duo to join a long and storied history of queer-coded bromances in action flicks.
With an ensemble cast as large as Army of the Dead's (the film boasts a hefty roster of 10 main players), there was bound to be at least one romance or two blossoming — but in the film's case, the most memorable relationship wasn't between any of the established or teased-at romances. Instead, it was the not-so-subtly homeotic chemistry between Schweighöfer's bright-eyed safecracker Ludwig Dieter, and Hardwick's philosophical, battle-hardened Vanderohe. Though the two only share a few scenes together (when you're juggling as many characters as Army of the Dead is, every second of screen time counts), the chemistry was immediate and palpable — more than enough ammunition (pardon the pun) for the ship to hit the ground running online.
Dieter and Vanderohe have all the trademarks of a traditional action bromance — the veteran taking the naive newbie under their wing, the two bonding in battle and growing closer as the situation get more dire, and, of course, one making the tragic heroic sacrifice at the end of the film so the other can get out alive. Dieter's sudden and unexpected death — sacrificing himself to give Vanderohe a few moments to escape — is one of the film's most crushing moments, and ticks all the right boxes to feed fuel to the fire that their relationship does, in fact, fall into the category of the queer-coded action bromance.
The duo is hardly the first pair of action heroes to have noticeable sparks fly. From '80s blockbuster classics like Top Gun and Predator, to more recent, prestigious genre-benders like Inception and Fight Club, homoerotic undertones in intense, battle-forged friendships between male protagonists have become a near hallmark of any good action film. The uber-machismo attitudes (both in ideology and aesthetic) of the action flick invites inherent analysis for the queer subtext in such extreme portraits of masculinity. In Dieter and Vanderohe's case, though, the idea that their relationship might be coded as further than friendship isn't just a byproduct of the film's genre, or the closeness of their relationship — there's a precedent set by Zack Snyder himself.
Though Batman and Superman will always be a relationship that lives on in the hearts of fans, Snyder's most outwardly homoerotic film is, without a doubt, the Spartan epic 300, starring an oiled-up and excessively muscled Gerard Butler. 300 earned itself a near-instant spot on lists of the most homoerotic action flicks of all time, likely due to the sheer volume of well-muscled men writhing around in loincloths in close quarters. 300's legacy as a piece of queer-coded action cinema moved beyond pure fan fervor when Snyder revealed in a recent appearance on The Playlist's The Fourth Wall podcast that he had penned a 300 sequel intended to be a gay romance between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion.
According to Snyder, Warner Bros. asked him to draft a third installment in the 300 franchise "But when I sat down to write it I actually wrote a different movie. I was writing this thing about Alexander the Great, and it just turned into a movie about the relationship between Hephaestion and Alexander," Snyder explained. "It turned out to be a love story." Warner Bros. passed on the film, but the revelation adds a whole new lens to the queer-coded relationships in Snyder's previous movies. It's one thing for fans of a franchise to read into a relationship, it's another entirely for a filmmaker to come flat out and say they penned their action films with queer undertones in mind.
Though Snyder's soundbite in the interview was referencing 300 and not Army of the Dead, specifically, the knowledge that Snyder is ready and willing to write a queer-led action film is a huge step forward for representation in the genre — especially considering the sheer power of Snyder's veritable legion of online fans. Last year saw the release of The Old Guard, a Charlize Theron-led action flick and the first superhero film to feature out and proud gay superheroes as protagonists. As huge of a step forward as the film was, though, it's only a stepping stone compared to the influence that a queer-led action flick from a director as well-known as Snyder could have.
While Dieter and Vanderohe's brief connection may have been short but sweet, they're neither the first (and hopefully not the last) queer-coded bromance to crop up in an action flick — and for Army of the Dead fans, there's hope going forward that the two could have some sort of a reunion. There's currently a Dieter-centric Army of the Dead prequel in the works at Netflix, and considering that the studio also greenlit an animated series based on the film before it was even released, there's certainly a chance for a sequel as well.
Dieter appeared to have met a grim fate in Army of the Dead in his sacrifice to save Vanderohe. But, as Snyder himself acknowledged, the tried-and-true rule of horror deaths is that unless there's a body, you can't assume a character is dead, and Dieter was very clearly "killed" offscreen. Between the film's success, the fan response to Dieter and Vanderohe, and the recent revelation that Snyder is more than ready to pen a queer-led action flick, the hope that Dieter and Vanderohe could reunite one day is looking less like a pipe dream and more like a possible opportunity for more queer representation in mainstream action franchises.