Title: Army of Thieves
Director: Matthias Schweighöfer
Writers: Zack Snyder (characters), Shay Hatten (screenplay)
Stars: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee
Army of Thieves is the second film in the new cinematic universe (Army-verse? Zombie-verse?) that started with Zack Snyder’s zombie-blasting Army of the Dead earlier this year. A prequel to Zack Snyder’s zombie flick, Army of Thieves is quite different than its predecessor, both in look, style and story. Here, the ongoing zombie plague in Las Vegas is moved to the background and comes through mostly in news programs and other media.
Ludwig Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighhöfen, who also directed the film) is fed up. Working a soul-crushing job as a bank teller in Pottsdam, Germany, the daily grind of his dead-end career is getting to him. His life-long passion is for cracking combination locks and safes. As a kid, he was special, an outsider. While his classmates were out playing football in the street, young Dieter practiced breaking safe locks. Most of all, Dieter wanted to be a safecracker!
But now, the middle-aged Dieter seems to be stuck in that daily grind. His dull and ordinary life doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. That is until he gets a single view and a single comment on his niche Youtube channel, which is all about safecracking. The comment to his youtube video instructs him to go to a specific location and give a password to the guy at the door: shady business, no doubt. But Dieter goes anyway and is soon involved in an underground safecracking contest. Dieter wins and is recruited by the mysterious and beautiful thief Gwendoline (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) to be a part of the heist of the century.
Zombies Are Optional
You might be asking what this has to do with Zack Snyders gung-ho zombie blasting action-fest Army of the Dead (which we also reviewed). I don’t blame you. As mentioned, both films are set in the same universe, and both involve a heist. Army of Thieves is a prequel of sorts to Army of the Dead and tells Dieter’s backstory and how he came to be in the crew that went into Las Vegas in Zack Snyder’s film. Other than that, when it comes to genre and tone, the two films are entirely different.
Army of Thieves could easily have stood as its own story, unconnected to Zack Snyder’s film. The connections to Snyders film often felt forced, nailed onto Army of Thieves as if an afterthought. One could easily have removed these bits, and you’d end up with pretty much the same film. But in other ways, being a part of this shared cinematic universe helps give Army of Thieves some of its quirkiness, especially in the first act.
And it was in the first act this film shined. Matthias Schweighhöfen’s Dieter is charismatic to a fault, bordering on caricature, but with heaps of soul and sympathy. He is the eccentric nerd in any group of people, always out of place, unless he is in the process of opening some legendary combination lock to a safe vault. I enjoyed Matthias Schweighhöfen’s portrayal of the Dieter and must admit that a film with him alone, rather than a part of an ensemble, would be great. The other characters in the group aren’t nearly as interesting.
Speaking of the other characters, we’ve already met Nathalie Emmanuel’s master thief Gwendoline. We also meet the hacker Korina, played by Ruby O. Fee. And there is the wannabe American action hero Brad Cage (played by Stuart Martin), who changed his name to the most American action-hero name he could come up with. And last but not least is the getaway driver Rolph, played by the British comedian and improv artist Guz Khan.
The Heist of the Century
The team sets out to break into a series of legendary vaults made by the eccentric safe maker Hans Wagner, scheming and infiltrating their way into each of the secure locations where they are kept. There is a Germanic theme to these safes, which are all named after the parts of Richard Wagner’s epic musical drama Der Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold, Die Valküre and Siegfried. The fourth safe, Götterdammerung, is located in Las Vegas and is the main objective in Army of the Dead.
Matthias Schweighhöfen is delightful in these safecracking scenes, where Dieter’s eccentric personality is on full display, with an almost seductive approach to each lock as Richard Wagner’s musical masterpiece blares from his mobile phone. I would have loved to see more Dieter and less ensemble throughout the film, to be honest. For instance, there is a scene early on involving a zombie and yodling! That was excellent, but this quirkiness evaporates somewhat when the team gets together.
Much of the second and third acts of the film tend to disappear into rote heist-movie territory. The team breaks into locked vaults around Europe while being chased by an increasingly desperate Interpol team led by Agent Delacroix (played by Jonathan Cohen). There are some double-crossings and intrigue that you can see coming from miles away. We’ve seen it all before in ensemble heist movies like this (ok, maybe not exactly like this; zombies and yodling, and all that!).
To sum it up, Army of Thieves is a fun heist film with some added eccentricities. Other than Matthias Schweighhöfens Ludwig Dieter, the team is interesting enough, if not somewhat forgettable. The film could easily have stood on its own and not be connected to Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. But this is clearly an attempt at making a new cinematic universe. There will undoubtedly be more prequels and sequels to Army of the Dead.
Army of Thieves comes to Netflix on the 29th of October.