At the end of Evil Dead II, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) was sent back to 1300 AD thanks to a time portal opened up after some words were said in some made up and funny sounding language. In Army of Darkness, he starts off right where Evil Dead II concluded, stuck in the middle ages and wanting a way out. This isn’t his time, after all, even though he could rule the entire world if he wanted. After all, he brought with him a car, a chainsaw, and a shotgun. You might think that fuel and bullets would be a concern, but this is a silly action film, meaning those aren’t even considered within the film.
After a couple of action scenes early on, the main plot line is revealed. The “Book of the Dead” from the first two Evil Dead films is back in this time period as well, and in order to return home, Ash is going to have to locate the book, say some funny words, and take it to the magicians. Or, I think the film calls them “wise men,” but it doesn’t really matter. The souls of the dead are back, and they’re going to try to stop Ash from acquiring his MacGuffin of choice. There are also a couple of warring human factions, but that isn’t terribly important at this point.
This is a far less scarier film than the earlier Evil Deads, which is kind of a disappointment. It’s also less gory, and I’m kind of surprised that the film managed to earn an R rating. Stories say that the MPAA was mad at director Sam Reimi which is why the higher rating was given. I’m not sure how much stock I put into that, but if it is true, I can certainly see it being the case, as there’s nothing here that warrants it in my opinion. There’s only one scene with a copious amount of blood — which comes from an off-screen source — there isn’t a lot of profanity, there’s little sexuality, and the violence isn’t strong.
I guess the gist of that is that if you’re going into Army of Darkness hoping for the same type of film that the first two Evil Dead movies were, you might be disappointed. The humor is still there, although it’s more campy and slapstick than before, but the scares and gore are all but gone. This is more of an action-adventure film than anything else, which is certainly a departure from the first two installments of the series.
I think expectations might be one of the reasons I didn’t have a great time with Army of Darkness. I expected a film that would scare me a little, make me laugh a little, and make me a tad sick to my stomach. What I got was a lackluster action-adventure with lacking characters, boring action scenes and even fewer real characters than the last couple of films. Yeah, it’ll satisfy those not caring about anything but non-stop action, but if you want anything more, or even what was delivered in the previous films, you’ll probably not be the happiest once it comes to an end.
Most of Army of Darkness just bored me. The action scenes just weren’t all that great, and because there were no real characters to root for, I found myself uninterested in their result. If Ash lost, I don’t think I would have been terribly upset. In fact, I might have been happy as it means that the movie would be over. Evil Dead II didn’t have the same type of soul that the first Evil Dead had, and Army of Darkness is even further removed in spirit from the first film. The humor was mostly gone, and instead, we just get a relentless flood of dull action scenes.
There are some kind of interesting developments throughout, including an Ash clone nicknamed “Bad Ash,” which gave me a chuckle, as well as an all-out final battle against the titular Army of Darkness, but much of the film just has Ash move from place to place, slaying whatever gets in his path, and then moving on again. There isn’t any time to waste, so there’s also no time for character development, subplots, a supporting cast, or anything else that most films will contain. There is a single goal in mind, and it’s a sprint to the finish to reach it.
The only possible interesting development that could have been included was in the character of Ash, but it never really comes up. Ash starts off kind of a jerk, treating all of the people he meets as “primitives,” considering they’re all from the 1300s and he’s from the future. There are hints at him growing as a character, empathizing with them and becoming less of a jerk. But that doesn’t really come to fruition and he stays the same throughout the entire experience.
Bruce Campbell is hilarious in the lead role, though, and has become the main reason to watch. It’s overacting for certain, but it’s so enjoyable and it fits with the overall light and campy tone of the series that it works very well. The rest of the cast fits into their medieval armor or demon makeup just fine, but the only one who stands out is Campbell.
I was disappointed by Army of Darkness. It wasn’t at all like the first two Evil Dead films, and even after I accepted that, it just wasn’t all that enjoyable. It focuses most of its attention on the action scenes, and they simply aren’t very good. They’re dull, lifeless, and carry little meaning. This is a film about a man running around, killing random demons, and trying to get a magical book, and it’s boring. How does that happen? It’s what happened here, and I did not have a lot of fun with Army of Darkness.