Review: Matthias Schweighöfer’s ‘Army of Thieves’ Raises The Stakes and The Takes
A prequel that’s actually a traditional heist film not centered around zombies is something nobody could’ve expected upon watching Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead when it released earlier this year, but that’s exactly what audiences will be getting when Matthias Schweighöfer’s Army of Thieves hits Netflix on October 29. The film follows a young Ludwig Dieter, the oddball safe cracker who viewers were introduced to in Army of the Dead (with Schweighöfer himself reprising the eccentric role), as he’s thrust into joining a group of thieves who are aspiring to make a name for themselves and set out to execute a series of heists on four of the most secure vaults in existence. These vaults were meticulously crafted with an extraordinary attention to detail by a legendary locksmith named Hans Wagner, depicted via the opening scene that tells the story of the vaults’ creation followed by Hans’ untimely demise. This backstory is cleverly framed as one of Dieter’s uploads to his struggling YouTube channel where his only viewer leaves a comment with a challenge to “prove his skills” accompanied by an address, date, and time.
He shows up to what ends up being an underground safe cracking competition that after quite a rough start he manages to win, leading to an alluring woman named Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel, Game of Thrones) presenting him with an opportunity he can’t pass up: to be the safe cracker for a team of thieves which is planning to take on the very vaults he’s spent the majority of his life admiring and researching from afar. Naturally he agrees and is introduced to the rest of the team including a driver named Rolph (Guz Khan, Four Weddings and A Funeral), the muscle bound “asshole” named Brad (Stuart Martin, Miss Scarlet and the Duke), and the tech savvy Korina (Ruby O. Fee, Polar) before setting out for the first heist on the least secure of the vaults. The editing of the heist sequences is razor sharp with the narration of the plan taking place as it’s being executed on screen, making them feel tight and tense moment to moment. The script is very well written and sheds a lot of light on why Dieter is the strange guy he is, giving viewers a lot of context for the bizarre mannerisms on display in both Army of the Dead as well as in this film. The supporting roster of characters here is a bit more grounded and fleshed out though, lending themselves to feeling more believable overall, a necessity in order to maintain the high stakes yet whimsical tone Schweighöfer applies to the film.
After the very short and sweet first job the team returns to the hideout to celebrate where Dieter’s attraction to Gwen begins to strengthen over the course of a highly personal private conversation they share, serving as an introduction to the romantic angle of the narrative. Adding romance into an action oriented story typically isn’t very effective as it usually feels forced or takes a backseat to the set pieces but the believable presentation that’s cleverly tied into the overarching narrative actually makes it work exactly as intended in this case. It’s during this time that the viewer is also introduced to the Interpol team assigned to the case, led by the ruthless senior agent Delacroix (Johnathan Cohen, Family Business) who seems to always be one step behind the thieves despite carrying a personal grudge against a select few of them. During the highly messy second heist the stakes are raised significantly, setting up the tense and action packed series of events that take place over back half of the 127 minute runtime quite well.
All around solid performances really empower the smartly crafted tension, and the extra depth added to Dieter makes an already highly likable character even easier to grow fond of due to the personal insight provided by his narration. The jokes mostly land with the comedic moments blending nicely into the action despite a few overly slapstick lines of dialogue, though these few tonal shortcomings are fairly easy to forget when constantly being followed up by beautifully choreographed large scale action sequences. That’s something that’s present in droves (as one would expect from a Snyder production), brought to life by impressive stunt work throughout and amazing CG during the safe cracking sequences that depict the locks’ internal mechanisms in stunning detail. Refreshingly, the existence of the zombie plague is brought up multiple times yet never dwelled on so it doesn’t really matter if you see Army of the Dead or not, though after seeing the ways they empower one another in regards to Dieter’s character and the world building you won’t regret having watched them both. Due to the careful construction of it’s narrative, Army of Thieves acts as both a powerful companion piece to the previous film as well as being a more than serviceable standalone entry into the heist subgenre. It’ll arguably be more interesting to see how subsequent filmmakers are able to further flesh out this world and those who call it home than it was to see Snyder himself lay the foundation; he’s got a real knack for creating stories that can be built upon and this franchise is clearly going to be no exception. You can throw on some opera and crack into Army of Thieves yourself when it releases exclusively to Netflix on October 29.