Earlier this year, “Justice League” director Zack Snyder treated fans to his unique take on the zombie horror genre. Set in Las Vegas, the film was essentially a horror heist film that saw a team of highly-skilled specialist break into a vault in the City of Sin. A city crawling with zombies. A solid premise full of bombastic action, absurd antics and colourful characters. For us, the character that stuck out the most was the German vault-cracking savant, Ludwig Dieter. Actor Matthias Schweighöfer’s potrayal of the character brought some much needed life and fun to the otherwise grim affair. For all his quirky charms, we like the guy.
That being said, do we really want an entire prequel film about his checkered past? In the same year as “Army of the Dead”? Who asked for this? Well, for better or for worse, it’s here. Full disclosure, we were fairly sure this film was going to be a flop. A cheap cashgrab made to bank on Snyder’s fans. We were dead wrong though, because “Army of Thieves” is more than able to stand on its own!
The film opens up with our favourite safecracker, a full six years before the events of “Army of the Dead”. The zombie apocalypse was in its infancy and Ludwig Dieter went by his real name, Sebastian Schlecht-Wohnert. A reclusive banker with a passion for lock mechanisms, classical music and Nordic mythology. His ordinary life is shattered when a mysterious jewel-thief invites him into a world of crime. Alongside a team of thrill-seeking outlaws, Sebastian embarks on an international heist job that sees him unlocking the secrets of a master locksmith. He’ll fall in love, break the law and do his level best not to get killed. This is the birth of Ludwig Dieter!
Oh yeah fun fact: Matthias Schweighöfer is both the lead and the director of the film with Snyder and Shay Hatten coming up with the story. One of the issues we had with Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” was how scatter-brained it all felt. The tonal shifts between a silly, semi-aware zombie shoot-em-up and a serious family drama was jarring. Then, there were all these secondary plots that went nowhere with bland twists thrown in for good measure. “Army of Thieves” knows very clearly what it is and sticks to it.
The source of humour, the emotional heart and plot beats all revolve around Schweighöfer’s Dieter. There’s a clear anchor that holds the entire thing together whenever the plot is at risk of veering off into a million other directions. Some of you are probably wondering if you’ll get to see some zombie action in the film. You’ll see glimpses of it but in no way does it play at the foreground. Rather, the film takes on this intriguing “National Treasure” style adventure with Dieter travelling around the world with his motley crew of misfit criminals.
We’re just going to let you know right now that the strength of this film is not in its originality. Snyder and Hatten aren’t trying to subvert the heist genre here. Rather its value comes from its character writing and the draw of its world. Whenever Dieter launches into one of his lengthy spiels about how the vaults’ mechanisms are based on Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cyle”, we are intrigued. And this is coming from someone who hates exposition by long monologues. There’s so much passion and history behind the stories that you can’t help but listen.
Fans of “Army of the Dead” will definitely see the film in a new light after “Army of Thieves”, providing an additional layer of significance to the heist. The only thing perhaps we weren’t a fan of was the way the group dynamics were set up. A lot of it felt rushed and awkward. There’s also a romantic subplot that feels hollow and unearned.
In lieu of close-quarter combat and last stand shootouts with the undead, we get the tension and rush of bank robberies and close-calls with the authorities. In our opinion, the thrill of Interpol chasing our merry band of thieves is far more engaging than seeing them running down a narrow hallway with zombies. The way Schweighöfer weaves action sequences leading into larger setpieces all tumbles into place like a line of dominoes.
Then of course there’s Schweighöfer himself as Ludwig Dieter and we’ve got to say that he made for a very fun and likable protagonist. Yes his fish-out-of-water act does grate at times but it is frenetic energy and comedic timing that ultimately wins us over. “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel plays Gwendoline, Dieter’s friend/partner throughout the three heists. It’s nice to Emmanuel be able to flex her action-hero muscles here. Ruby O. Fee and Guz Khan play the sassy hacker with a heart of gold and the mad-lad driver. Stuart Martin’s character Brad Cage does a serviceable job as the sleazy alpha of the group. While the others are a little harder to read, he’s got “double-cross” written all over his face.
While “Army of Thieves” makes for an entertaining heist-action film, its attempts at being more comedic that its predecessor yields inconsistent results. Seriously Schweighöfer does some Mr Beanesque nonsense that baffles us at times. When there’s some context for it, the joke lands but then there are times it just seems utterly bizarre. There are a few funny quips sprinkled in but get ready for a lot of girlish screaming coming from Dieter. Mileage will vary from person to person.
Schweighöfer’s “Army of Thieves” might not have its predecessor’s scale but it makes up for it with a tighter story that is more consistent with its bubblier tone. Through Schweighöfer’s performance and direction, the film manages to mostly entertain viewers from start to finish. If Snyder and Netflix plan on expanding their “Army of the Dead” franchise, we’d love to see Schweighöfer return as Dieter. We technically didn’t see him die on camera. So perhaps, there’s a chance our favourite safecracking Nervous Man may return? In any case, you can now catch “Army of Thieves” on Netflix today!
So what do you think of “Army of Thieves”? Do you prefer it over Snyder’s “Army of the Dead”? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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Netflix's "Army of Thieves" Review
Schweighöfer's "Army of Thieves" might not have its predecessor's scale but it makes up for it with a tighter story that is more consistent with its bubblier tone. Through Schweighöfer's performance and direction, the film manages to mostly entertain viewers from start to finish. If Snyder and Netflix plan on expanding their "Army of the Dead" franchise, we'd love to see Schweighöfer return as Dieter.
- Netflix's "Army of Thieves" Review