REVIEW: ‘Army of Thieves’ Lacks The Concept Of Its Predecessor

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Army of Thieves

Army of Thieves is a Netflix Original film directed and produced by Matthias Schweighöfer and written by Shay Hatten with a story by Hatten and Zack Snyder. Six years before the events of Army of the Dead, bank teller Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert (Schweighöfer) is approached by international thief Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) for a job.  Gwendoline and her crew of thieves aim to track down a series of safes constructed by legendary locksmith Hans Wagner, with each safe modeled after an opera in the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner. Having studied the history of the safes, Sebastian is the crew’s only hope of opening them. A series of high-octane heists ensue, as Sebastian—who will rechristen himself as Ludwig Dieter—falls for Gwendoline while attempting to evade Interpol forces.

Army of the Dead was one of the most pleasant viewing surprises of the summer due to its willingness to mix the zombie and heist genres and its gnarly action sequences. Thieves, sadly, is bereft of those pleasures; the zombie outbreak is regulated to news reports on TV and a series of escalating nightmares where Dieter is pursued by hordes of the undead. And while there are other connections to Army of the Dead—all of the safes Dieter and crew plan to crack are under the ownership of Hiroyuki Sanada‘s Bly Tanaka—viewers can easily skip this film and just watch the main event.

One thing Army of the Dead and Army of Thieves share in common is the jolt of adrenaline that comes from watching a perfectly planned heist go down. Schweighöfer keeps the film moving steadily, injecting action beats and car chases that line up perfectly with Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s snappy score. Cinematographer Bernhard Jasper captures the various city settings of the film in great detail; Paris and Prague look stunning in this film. Jasper even makes Dieter’s zombie nightmares a visual feast for the eyes, as the safecracker is overwhelmed by the legions of the undead. A small part of me even hoped that he’d return for the upcoming Army of the Dead sequel Planet of the Dead.

But the real treat is watching Dieter utilize his safecracking skills. Each safe has a different mechanism, and if the person who is cracking it fails, it will be locked forever. Schweighöfer brilliantly chooses to show the inner workings of the safe as Dieter works his magic, with a labyrinthine maze of locks shifting into place and the tumblers slowly giving way. He even cues up Wagner’s operas before attempting to crack each safe, tying into the theme of Nordic myth. These scenes are just as tense as any car chase or fistfight, and it makes sense to give them a central focus since Dieter is the film’s protagonist.

And while Schweighöfer is still a delight as Dieter, and remains responsible for most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments, the rest of the cast is hit and miss. While Emmanuel is effortlessly cool as Gwen and has immense chemistry with Schweighöfer, the rest of the crew are ciphers of characters. We don’t know much about Korina (Ruby O. Fee) other than she’s a master hacker; we don’t know much about Rolf (Guz Khan) other than he’s an excellent getaway driver.

The group’s muscle Brad Cage (Stuart Martin) presents an interesting conflict as he’s a barrel of toxic masculinity compared to Dieter’s more soft-spoken, sensitive character, but even that feels undercooked. And Interpol agent Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) has perhaps the flimsiest character motivation of all, as he’s still sore over being shot in the rear by Cage. Yes, that’s his actual motivation. The fun of heist films like Triple Frontier or Ocean’s Eleven is seeing all the different personalities mix, and it’s hard for Army of Thieves to capture that same magic when only two characters have any sense of personality.

Army of Thieves lacks the genre mashup thrills of Army of the Dead, though it does have an energetic lead performance and direction from Matthias Schweighöfer. Even if you loved Army of the Dead, I’d suggest waiting for the upcoming Lost Vegas anime prequel to get your fix of zombie action.

Army of Thieves is currently available to stream on Netflix.


Army of Thieves
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Army of Thieves lacks the genre mashup thrills of Army of the Dead, though it does have an energetic lead performance and direction from Matthias Schweighöfer. Even if you loved Army of the Dead, I’d suggest waiting for the upcoming Lost Vegas anime prequel to get your fix of zombie action.