Only five months ago, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead premiered on Netflix and gave us a dumb but fun heist movie set amid a zombie apocalypse. While reception of the film was mixed (I liked it!), most people agreed that Matthias Schweighöfer’s character, a safecracker named Dieter, a highlight.
Netflix must have liked him too because they gave actor Matthias Schweighöfer a bunch of money to direct this prequel cantered on his character. You know what? It was money well spent.
Set several years before Army of the Dead, Army of Thieves follows Dieter as he is recruited by Nathalie Emmanuel’s Gwendoine to her team of bank robbers. She’s the brains and a master thief, they already have a driver, a hacker, and some muscle, and all they need now is a safecracker. They intend on robbing a series of supposedly impenetrable bank vaults created by a legendary craftsman, each named after a movement in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
If you think you’re about to watch a heist film in which each of the team members has a specific skill, and it’s only by working together that they can pull off these daring robberies, you’d be correct, and the film knows it too. Dieter, called Sebastian in this film, even calls that out as he meets the team.
If you’re looking for another zombie action film, you will be disappointed. While it’s clear from news reports that the zombie outbreak is happening in America, there are previous few zombies in this European set story. However, if you were looking for more of Schweighöfer being delightful, then you are in for a treat.
Schweighöfer knows the character inside and out, and what made him work in Army of the Dead makes him work again here: no inner monologue, and big reactions, and childlike wonder to spare, and at least one character to banter with (and who will react like a normal human would in any given situation).
Schweighöfer and Emmanuel have decent on-screen chemistry for this last point, and while their romantic subplot might not work for everyone, it worked for me. The rest of the team comprises the archetypal characters you might expect from a film like this (action movie-obsessed tough guy, snarky British driver, and girl hacker with big hair), and they’re all fine too.
The film isn’t particularly deep, and it wears its references directly on its sleeve, but while that might sink a lesser film, this one has something important going for it: it’s fun. It’s shallow, but it knows when to go big and when to be quiet, Schweighöfer is having the time of his life, and everyone involved seems to know what kind of movie they are trying to make.
Case in point, unlike Army of the Dead, which has a team forming to rob a casino vault because they’re all downtrodden, in this film, Emmanuel’s Gwendoine wants to be a legend. She learns that Dieter is the best because he goes to an underground safecracking competition that plays like an underground fighting ring would in a grimmer action movie. It’s kinda great.
Is Army of Thieves going to win any awards? No, almost certainly not, but I’d also really like Netflix to greenlight another three of these because it’s precisely the kind of fun I wanted it to be.
Army of Thieves premieres exclusively on Netflix on October 29th, 2021
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