The Hate for Army of the Dead’s Kate Is Sexist Garbage
**Spoiler warning for Army of the Dead.**
With all the buzz it has generated, it should surprise no one that Zack Snyder’s Netflix zombie heist movie Army of the Dead has generated tremendous discourse across social media. However, the one absurdly bad Army of the Dead take that needs to be put to rest is the recurring claim that the character Kate Ward is the one to blame for all that goes wrong on the heist mission, a viewpoint clearly driven by sexism.
Army of the Dead has been one of the streamer’s biggest releases of this year. Deadline reported an approximate 72 million viewing households in the first four weeks of release, Netflix has already greenlit two prequel projects, and rumors of a sequel have persisted. The film is full of action, the flashy visual style one would expect from a Snyder film, and a ton of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter Eggs that imply that the zombie blockbuster is also home to aliens, robots, and a time loop in which the main ensemble of characters is trapped.
In the midst of all that, Kate is first introduced as a volunteer at a quarantine camp where people are locked up with little chance of securing their freedom unless they bribe the guards. Kate has befriended a single mother named Geeta and her two children who are trapped in the camp. Geeta plans to get help from Lilly (a.k.a. The Coyote), a smuggler with the means to get her into the now cordoned off Las Vegas, which is full of zombies and enough abandoned cash to purchase her tickets to freedom.
The essence of Kate’s character is revealed when she and Geeta are harassed by Burt Cummings, an abusive and predatory guard working at the camp. When Burt is threatening towards Geeta, Kate’s gut reaction is to verbally tell him off. It’s immediately evident that Kate has bitten off more than she can chew and is forced to placate Burt’s temper to prevent harm from coming to Geeta or her children. This impulsive need to help people in need, even when it’s dangerous, becomes central to Kate’s place in the story as the burgeoning hero and eventual Final Girl.
Kate’s father is Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), with whom she has a complicated relationship. Through flashbacks, we learn that Scott killed his wife Laura, after she became infected and tried to kill Kate. Scott wants to mend their relationship and informs Kate of the Las Vegas heist job he has been offered, with the promise that he will use his cut of the profits to start over with her by opening a new restaurant of his own and funding any dream Kate wants to pursue.
Kate remains distant until she learns that Geeta has gone into Vegas and disappeared, leaving her children alone and afraid. Kate demands to accompany Scott’s team under the threat that his refusal will only lead her to sneak in after them anyway and be more likely to get killed without their help. It’s the same type of headstrong determination that is often revered in classic action heroes.
Upon entering Las Vegas, things go from bad to worse. Any misstep or unforeseen complication quickly derails the plan even further, leaving numerous casualties along the way. Many viewers have blamed this escalation of mayhem on Kate. This got bad enough that actress Ella Purnell took to social media to address the animosity against her character. In an Instagram story post, she stated the following:
We need to clear something up because a lot of y’all are saying that my character is the reason why it all went tits up in Army of the Dead. You guys are not watching the movie properly. It’s not my character. A certain someone cuts off another certain someone’s head. I think you all know who I’m talking about, without giving away spoilers, and that’s why shit hits the fan. It’s not my character’s fault, or be it, maybe she fucked up too, but it’s not her fault.
To clarify, Purnell is referring to the character of Martin (Garret Dillahunt). Martin is the head of security for Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), a wealthy casino owner who hires Scott to head a team to retrieve a large sum of money from one of his Las Vegas casino vaults. Martin accompanies the team on the mission, but the twist is that he is actually there to retrieve the head of an Alpha Zombie to bring back to Tanaka for the purpose of auctioning it off to anyone nefarious enough to use it to engineer a new weapon of mass destruction: their own zombie army.
Lilly, The Coyote, explains to the team when they first enter Las Vegas that there are two types of zombies. Shamblers are the more traditional type of undead foe that can be at varying stages of decay but aren’t necessarily all that bright. The more dangerous type of zombie is the Alpha. The main Alpha is Zeus (portrayed by frequent Snyder collaborator Richard Cetrone), and he is the only one whose bite can transform his prey into Alphas. The Alphas are smarter, faster, and more deadly than your average zombie. Lilly sacrifices Burt by shooting him in the leg and leaving him out for The Bride and an Alpha henchman to bring back to Zeus. The team can move more safely through the Alpha kingdom (Las Vegas) because of this payment.
Lilly is very clear in her warnings about the Alphas, but Martin tricks her by offering to help everyone get out of the quarantine camp in exchange for her help to get his hands on an Alpha to get a vial of their blood. Once The Bride is incapacitated, Martin mounts and decapitates her, much to Lilly’s horror. The Bride’s scream alerts Zeus, who brings her body back to his lair where he digs her unborn Alpha zombie fetus out of her corpse, revealing that she was pregnant with his baby. Martin’s violence is what disrupts the delicate balance the Alphas have with the humans Lilly brings in and out of Vegas in search of abandoned cash. Martin’s violence is what sets Zeus on the warpath with his deadly Alpha army against Scott’s team.
Martin’s first act of violence against the team is when he tricks Chambers (Samantha Win) into being swarmed by a pack of Shamblers. Chambers was an extremely skilled fighter, and her death leaves the team even more vulnerable to danger. By the time Kate goes off on her own in search of Geeta, since she has deduced that Geeta is being held prisoner in the Alpha lair, numerous members of the team are already dead because of Martin. One could make the argument that if Kate hadn’t tried to save Geeta, a couple of the last surviving members of the team (her, Scott, and Peters) could have escaped Las Vegas without being killed by Zeus. However, entertaining those “what ifs” would do little more than entertain the sexist hypocrisy of the unwarranted animosity against Kate as a character.
Charging into dangerous situations to save someone in need of saving is a typical occurrence for the heroes of action films that come to be regarded as beloved by the masses. Sometimes they have superhuman abilities to better their odds of survival (Steve Rogers infiltrating a Hydra facility to rescue Bucky Barnes and other prisoners in Captain America: The First Avenger), but other times, they’re just human (Kyle Reese traveling back in time to save Sarah Connor from a Terminator). Kate doesn’t have super powers, but she’s not entirely lacking in training. We see before the team first enters Las Vegas that she knows how to use a gun. The odds are against her, but positioning your hero as an underdog is a common tactic to make the viewer root for them.
It is an indisputable fact that Martin creates the worst, most needless, preventable obstacles in the way of the team’s success in their mission. However, he is the main villain of the team, so his role in the story is to create problems. The only plausible explanation for why Kate is disproportionately blamed for everything going wrong, when all she has done is display the same traits that are revered in the leads of other action stories, is sexism. Women in fiction are constantly being judged more harshly than their male counterparts.
In a recent interview, film and television writer Christina Strain (Shadow and Bone, Finding Ohana, The Magicians) spoke about this phenomenon of viewers levying overly harsh judgements against female characters:
The criticisms that women get, female characters in particular in comparison to male characters [are] just infuriating at times. I worked on The Magicians for three seasons. People loved Alice until they didn’t love Alice and she was making mistakes and doing things that they didn’t think was okay. She went through some really traumatic shit and she was trying to figure out who she was. The reality is none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. We all are products of the environments that we are in. We are all just trying to survive. Women, and female characters in particular, are just not allowed to struggle. They’re just not.
To use Ella Purnell’s words, Kate is not to blame for the mission going “tits up.” Not only that, but her arc of reconciling with her estranged father is at the heart of the film’s story. After going for so long without communicating properly with Scott, the pair address their fractured relationship. Scott believes that Kate blames and resents him for the death of her mother. She is adamant that she never blamed him for that. She goes on to say that she felt abandoned by him after the death, when she needed him to be emotionally present to comfort her.
Scott is apologetic and said that he was distant because Kate reminded him of Laura, while he was in pain over having to kill her. Neither one of them has done anything malicious. All they ever needed to do to heal was communicate honestly with one another.
In the end, Scott is unconcerned about having to leave Las Vegas with a tiny fraction of what the job’s payoff was supposed to be. He is only insistent that he won’t leave without saving Kate, and sacrifices himself to fight Zeus as they are making their escape. Kate has to kill her father before he succumbs to Zeus’ bite, but not before he gives her a small sum of money to rescue Geeta’s children, and she tells him she loves him. It’s a sad but compelling conclusion to the story.
Neither Kate nor actress Ella Purnell deserve the ire they have received. From the emotional catharsis of Scott and Kate’s reconciliation to Kate’s unwavering determination to help prisoners get out of a government encampment, Kate is every bit deserving of her Final Girl role in the story. Martin, on the other hand, is entirely to blame for the death of every team member that viewers got emotionally attached to. Thankfully, karma came home to roost in the form of a zombie tiger named Valentine.
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