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Credit: Clay Enos/Netflix

The Army of the Dead cast explores the rich franchise future of Zack Snyder's undead Vegas heist

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May 18, 2021, 5:25 PM EDT (Updated)

Luck be a zombie... tonight! Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead doesn't hit Netflix until later this week, but the streamer is already betting heavily on the genre-blending zombie flick. Half of the company's chips are on Army of Thieves (a prequel film about Matthias Schweighöfer's safe-cracker, Dieter), while the other half are on Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, an anime-inspired series set just before the events of the main movie, whose 75 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes could be the sign of a massively successful franchise.

WARNING! THIS STORY CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ARMY OF THE DEAD.

Written by Shay Hatten (co-writer on Army of the Dead), Army of Thieves was directed by Schweighöfer, who describes the project, which wrapped production last December, as "a very international heist movie with little bits of romance in it" during a virtual interview with SYFY WIRE. Right now, it's unclear whether the narrative will feature any zombies. "I heard that we maybe have some zombies in the movie," Schweighöfer teases. "But this is not a zombie movie ... It is about the journey of Dieter. Why is he there in the Army of the Dead universe?"

Schweighöfer adds that the movie doesn't have a premiere date yet, though he hopes one will be announced soon.

"He's such a talented guy," executive producer Deborah Snyder said of Schweighöfer during an appearance at Justice Con last month. "It's so interesting to have a movie that takes place in the same timeline in a world where there's a pandemic in the United States. But really, this is a romantic comedy heist movie. To have it be in this different genre, but just have it be in that world, I think it's really fun. Nathalie Emmanuel is the female lead and she is just stunning and smart and she kicks ass. Their chemistry is amazing, so it's gonna be really great to have that movie."

Credit: Netflix

Already a massive fan of Snyder's body of work, Schweighöfer was excited to continue his working relationship with the filmmaker, who took on a producer role for Thieves. "As a producer, he's always working on giving people, and especially me, the best feeling of, 'Hey, create your own universe. This is your vision, so bring that to life,'" Schweighöfer adds. "He was always so helpful and I can still always call him. At the moment, by the way, we're talking every day ... I love this guy so much and he's a great producer and a filmmaker and I learned so many things every day."

When we broach the subject of Lost Vegas, Schweighöfer becomes quieter than a zombie with a decomposing jaw bone. "That's a spoiler alert," he says. "I can't talk about that." Luckily, co-star Omari Hardwick (the saw-wielding Vanderhoe) is a little more forthcoming about the animated show, which is also set to feature the voice talents of Christian Slater and Joe Manganiello. Never one to pass up an opportunity to get fans pumped for what's to come, Snyder has already teased that Lost Vegas will explore the origins of the zombie virus by taking a field trip to Area 51.

"Yes, I am a part of that. I can say that," Hardwick tells SYFY WIRE. "It definitely will have remnants of what you see with Army of the Dead. That is as much as I can speak about it. I guess that [it] would be a prologue of sorts. And then obviously, of course, my dear teammate, Matthias, has the prequel of Army of Thieves. But yes, I am a part of that anime, which is super cool because I've never experienced that before ... I did my work on that pre-COVID-ish or during that time. I went in and that was a great thing to get back on the microphone and add my voice to Vanderhoe in a different way."

“The fun of what's happening right now with the Army universe is to have multiple projects in the same universe that there's no established canon for that are all being developed at the same time," producer Wesley Coller also explained at Justice Con. "We obviously were the furthest down the road with Army of the Dead, but the other two came online while we were still in some form of production ... Zack had come up with a pretty solid story throughout all those different avenues, but to allow them to inform each other as we were bringing the other things online was a ton of fun. It was a great way to world-build. And also the fact that they reach into different areas of tone or genre — even one being animated. So, it was a lot of fun to have that opportunity to take something we created in a live-action space and then say, 'Ok, let's re-envision that as animation. What's that look like?' For me, it was the things happening in tandem that also had the latitude to evolve as we went."

While nothing is set in stone just yet, the talented VFX artists at Crafty Apes do hope that they're invited back into the flesh-eating fold after crafting a bunch of the blood and gun effects for Army of the Dead. "We work on a lot of Netflix stuff, so it's likely we probably will," senior VFX supervisor Mark LeDoux says. "But I think we basically take it a week at a time. It's kind of a weird world of visual effects right now. Because there was a plug for a while because of the pandemic. And now, it's kind of been unplugged and everything's just coming through crazy fast. Basically, I think that we probably will end up working on it if they're looking for vendors. But at the same time, I have no idea ... I don't wanna be like, 'Yeah! Of course, we are!' Because they're gonna be like, 'Oh, that's a little presumptuous.'"

"Yeah, and we've worked with Zack on a couple of other projects as well, so it'd be great to work with him again," VFX producer Bobby Tucker adds, referring to Crafty Apes' tenure on Snyder's four-hour cut of Justice League (now streaming on HBO Max).

Credit: Clay Enos/Netflix

In any case, the Army IP is certainly spreading — much like a virus that turns humans and tigers alike into raging eviscerators — though Netflix has yet to confirm a direct follow-up to Snyder's flagship title. If you've seen the film, you know that it ends on a massive cliffhanger, in which Vanderhoe escapes the recently-nuked Vegas with a good chunk of casino heist money. He boards a private plane to Mexico City, only to discover that he's been bitten by the chief Alpha zombie by the godly moniker of "Zeus" (Richard Cetrone).

"I would love to see a new version of the undead human meets zombie. Kind of a hybrid of sorts. I would love to see that, where he is an Alpha in his own right," Hardwick says, laying out an awesome pitch for a potential sequel. "Obviously, you know Zeus is now dead, but I think because I knew that Zeus had a certain amount of respect for Vanderhoe, which was reciprocated. I feel like because our characters respected each other so much, who knows? There might have been a secret bite that Zeus knew to give Vanderhoe and it's not the same lethal bite that leaves everybody else zombified. He really respected this guy and so, he decided to leave him with a different type of bite. I would love to see it go to that place, where I could maybe play a zombie one week and then the next week, I don't look like a zombie at all. That would just be crazy to me. I'm gonna call Zack about that — that just came to me when you asked that question, so maybe you'll get some credit for that."

The fates of other characters are a little more ambiguous or rather obvious. Vanderhoe survived the atomic blast because he was locked inside the fortified casino vault, but what about Dieter? Could lower levels of the casino have protected him from the brunt of the explosion meant to take care of the zombie infestation once and for all? "To be honest, that would be my wish," Schweighöfer says, chuckling. "Because Dieter is such a heartfelt guy and maybe ... let's pray that he's still alive and somewhere buried under these tons of walls. But he will make his way because it's the Dieter Man."

Credit: Clay Enos/Netflix

On the other end of the survival spectrum, we have Lilly, aka The Coyote (Nora Arnezeder), who was clearly impaled by Zeus just moments before the nuke was dropped on Sin City. She was most likely vaporized, but if by some miracle, she wasn't, Arnezeder has an idea or two about where to take the character in another outing. Despite being a rather mysterious figure, Lilly did have a fully fleshed-out backstory — at least in Arnezeder's mind. "I did build a strong backstory for Lilly," the actress recalls. "She has a bigger objective and her objective is she has a daughter that she had to abandon that lives in L.A. and this is her last duty before she gets the money and finds her daughter."

So, if The Coyote did live through a full-on nuclear blast, she'd be headed "back to her daughter," Arnezeder concludes. "That was the main objective. And then maybe fighting the zombies at some point with her daughter and she has to teach her all the skills because it's about transmission. All this stuff she learned, she's transmitting it to her daughter and yeah ... it could be interesting. Can we call Zack, actually?"

Currently playing in theaters across the U.S., Army of the Dead shambles onto Netflix this Friday, May 21.