Army of Thieves

Army of Thieves Is an Enjoyable Enough Romp

Dept. of Crews and Crewcoos


Zack Snyder has a Zack Snyder problem. Which is a little bit like Peter Jackson’s Peter Jackson problem. Blessed with a fertile imagination, and incredible skill, the both of them have become so successful in Hollywood that they are all but free from oversight and interference. On the one hand, it means that they are among a select few who are given the freedom to bring their unfettered visions to life. On the other, it means we end up with movies like King Kong and The Hobbit, like BvS: Dawn of Justice and Army of the Dead. Movies that are bloated and boring. Overstuffed and half-baked. Movies that could have really used a second set of eyes. Someone, anyone, who might have asked: “Do we really need three movies to tell this Hobbit story?”

I didn’t like Army of the Dead. (For those reasons. And a few others.) I felt like Zack Snyder, whose mocking remake of Dawn of the Dead brought new life to the zombie genre, should have done something more. Something better. Army of the Dead felt like wasted potential. A clever idea that got caught up in the gravitational pull of his own creative ego.

Which is why I went into this asking: “Do we really need a prequel to Army of the Dead?” Who knew that all I really wanted was more Matthias Schweighöfer.

The Miseducation of Sebastian Whatsisname

Army of Thieves

Spoilers for Army of the Dead, but when we last saw Matthias Schweighöfer’s Ludwig Dieter, he was being dragged away by the zombie king Zeus, after he had just sacrificed himself in order to give his new best bud, Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a chance to survive. It is one of the film’s few genuinely crushing moments, but given that we never see an on screen death, or a body, there is still a chance that he might be alive. Something made all the more likely given the expansion of the character’s mythology in his very own movie.

In Army of Thieves, Dieter isn’t Dieter. At least not yet. When the movie opens, he is just Sebastian with an unpronounceable last name, a bank teller by day and safecracking enthusiast by night. He has no criminal aspirations of any kind. He’s just obsessed with the master locksmith Hans Wagner and makes YouTube videos that no one watches. He leads a life of tedious routine. He isn’t unhappy, he’s just bored. Which makes him the perfect recruit for Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), an international jewel thief, who needs his skills to execute the heists of all heists.

Army of Thieves is a prequel in name more so than in theme. It’s set in the same “universe,” so to speak, and takes place at around the same time that Zack Snyder’s zombies first invade Las Vegas. The movie is built around the mythology of Hans Wagner, and its relatively straightforward plot concerns three of the four one-of-a-kind safes that we first heard about in Army of the Dead: the Rheingold, the Walkurie, and the Siegfried.

It may be billed as a prequel, but apart from showing us a scene from Army of the Dead as a sort of epilogue, this could have very well been a standalone. The only zombies in this movie are the ones on TV and in Sebastian’s occasional nightmares. Here, they serve as a setting rather than a threat. It’s an effort at world building. It’s zombie adjacent. It’s an origin story that seems based entirely off character notes that Zack Snyder and Matthias Schweighöfer might have made when they were developing Dieter.

Thank goodness he is interesting enough to make it worthwhile.

You Son of a Bitch, I’m In!

Army of Thieves

Army of Thieves is also more of a heist movie than its predecessor, leaning into the tropes of the genre, mocking it at times, while completely embracing it at others. Like all heist movies, we are introduced to a small crew of criminals, each one with their own unique set of skills, who are committed to pulling off the seemingly impossible. They’ve got Interpol hot on their heels. And the action takes place over three separate robberies. All of which is used to develop character and slowly grow Sebastian into Dieter.

The heists themselves aren’t particularly mind-blowing. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. Army of Thieves isn’t trying to be twisty like those Ocean’s movies. It isn’t aiming for surprise. It really is more of a character piece that uses its running time to create just enough of a connection between the players on screen to keep us invested in their lives. And it works.

As a director, Matthias Schweighöfer has a steady hand when it comes to both action set pieces and moments of quiet reflection, deftly balancing the two to give us something that, while unsurprising, is nevertheless a lot of fun. Army of Thieves may not add anything new to the heist genre, but it was two hours and nine minutes of well considered filmmaking. (That said, I could have used fewer CGI sequences involving the spinning and clicking of tumbler locks.)

As an actor, Matthias Schweighöfer oozes the same innocence and charm that made him the best thing about Army of the Dead. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s lovable. And everything he does makes you immediately root for him.

The rest of the crew are also just as engaging. Nathalie Emmanuel is an absolute delight. As are Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, and Stuart Martin. Unlike Snyder, Schweighöfer doesn’t create characters that are merely extensions of their individual quirks. These aren’t caricatures. They are full and fleshed out. And even though they only serve to establish the legend of Ludwig Dieter, none of them are shortchanged from being individuals in their own right.

It Was Always Part of the Plan

Army of Thieves

We know that there are at least two more installments in Zack Snyder’s Army-verse that are currently at various stages of production. There’s an anime series called Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas – which chronicles the early days of the zombie outbreak – as well as a direct sequel to the first movie.

There are definitely interesting stories here that can be told. And the world that Zack Snyder has built around Army of the Dead is incredibly fascinating and full of potential. Transposing the zombie story onto other genres, from action adventures, to heists, to romances, is a great way to keep things fresh. And Army of Thieves proves that the right director, and a talented ensemble, can do wonders to mitigate all of Snyder’s worst directorial instincts.

Army of Thieves premieres on Netflix, this Friday, October 29.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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