Director: Matthias Schweighöfer
Starring: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen
Run Time: 127 mins
Army Of Thieves is a prequel to Army of the Dead that released on Netflix earlier this year, the platform having full confidence in the property and produced this film despite not knowing how audiences would receive the original. This prequel centres on the safecracker known as Ludwig Dieter, a minor character in the first film and we learn how his character comes to be involved in the latter through the events of this film. Snyder’s zombie film was a refreshing change for the genre, a giddy and gory thrill ride. This prequel is directed by Matthias Schweighöfer and centres on Sebastian Schlencht-Wohnert (who renames himself to Ludwig Dieter later in the film) and his rise from his simple, mundane life as a bank teller to being part of a heist team. He idolises Hans Wagner, an individual who designed a series of intricate safe systems, each more difficult than the last. Sebastian post videos on YouTube and one day receives an anonymous message inviting him to an underground safecracking challenge where safecrackers race against each other to unlock a series of safes. One has to suspend disbelief that such a competition exists. Sebastian impresses in the competition and is recruited by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), a skilled jewel thief to join a team that also consists of Portuguese expert hacker Karina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver Ralph (Guz Khan) and gunman Brad Cage (Stuart Martin). The film focuses on three heists that the team intend to pull off with a significant cash reward if they are successful, which happen to be three out of four of Wagner’s designs, that lead up to the events of Army of the Dead. An Interpol team, lead by the obsessed Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) are hot on the tails of the gang, cueing various double-crosses and chase sequences.
Army Of Thieves starts out quite promisingly. Sebastian receives meaningful character development and Schweighöfer does a convincing job of portraying the mundanity of his life through repetition of his daily routine and humour. Schweighöfer captures Sebastian admiration of Wagner’s safe designs well and it is clearly evident that he enjoys the challenge and privilege of cracking these safes more than the cash result. The heist team are also reasonably well developed, even if some have generic tropes. Karina and Gwendoline fare best off and have a believable arc. Brad Cage is an action hero wannabe who is fun but rather one note and what we see of Ralph is humorous but he isn’t developed enough. The film gets increasingly more generic as it progresses and lacks the sharp commentary that propelled the first film above standard genre fare. There are not enough surprises or shake-ups to the heist formula and the tone of the film can be quite boisterous at times.
Schweighofer does a sound job directing but he is not a visionary director like Zack Snyder is and lacks his bold vision. The film makes an effort to tie itself in to Army of the Dead by being set at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, where we see some news clips of the initial outbreak. The juxtaposition of zombies to heists feels rather awkward and there could have been a more satisfying way to tie the two movies together. There is a reasonable score by Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro that matches the goofy nature of the character.
Army of Thieves is ultimately unremarkable but it passes the time easily enough. It succeeds its purpose as a prequel in that it fleshes out a fun yet minor character into a character with greater depth. The fact that it is a prequel always means you’re going to be less invested as you know that Sebastian will somehow make it through the high stakes as he needs to feature in the next film. At least it’s not a severe comedown in quality like many sequels suffer and certainly if Schweighöfer were to return in another film, now that we understand his personality a little more, this film benefits audiences in existing.