Army of Thieves is a weird film. It’s a retroactive prequel to Army of the Dead, a film that was also released in 2021.
It’s also a film where the main character is presumably dead. But that’s silly. That’d be like making a Black Widow film after Avengers: Endgame. Hmmn, bad example.
Director Matthias Schweighöfer reprises his role as Ludwig Dieter, the good-natured expert safe cracker. Dieter’s life isn’t as thrilling as he wants. He’s falling into a terribly boring routine and worse, he can’t even get anyone to watch his YouTube channel.
Dieter is badly in need of some excitement. Too bad he’s not paying attention to those news reports about a zombie apocalypse cropping up in Las Vegas…
On a lark, he accepts an invitation to test his safecracking skills. Not long after, Dieter’s recruited by the mysterious Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel, F9: The Fast Saga) to join her squad of skilled crooks in securing a massive payday. They just need Dieter’s expertise to crack exquisite vaults that can only be cracked by the absolute best.
The ensemble is just OK. Gwendoline is the calm, confident leader and Emmanuel makes her charming. She’s joined by the hotheaded wannabe 80s action hero Brad (Stuart Martin); hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee) and wheelman Rolph (Guz Khan). They’re being pursued by inspectors Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) and Beatrix (Noémie Nakai), who provide a Now You See Me vibe that largely succeeds.
Dieter is a character that works better as a supporting player instead of the main focus. In Army of the Dead, Dieter played against uber macho characters that allowed his peculiar quirkiness to stand out.
Here, there’s an abundance or quirky characters, which doesn’t make Dieter all that unique. Fee actually makes Korina a more interesting eccentric character and Brad had potential before going the telegraphed direction.
Screenwriter Shay Hatten (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) tries to jump ahead of criticism by having the characters call out heist movie clichés. That’s not useful in this case and just comes off like Hatten should have known better and come up with something original.
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Also, Hatten could have ditched the forced romantic connection with Gwendoline and Dieter. Schweighöfer makes Dieter a likable enough guy, but there’s little actual connection with Dieter and Gwendoline so it feels more routine than genuine.
In his director’s hat, Schweighöfer doesn’t have the best sense of pacing. The film plods along zombie-like in some sequences with little urgency. There never feels like a race against the clock in part due to the setup that mandates a step by step. Given the film’s two-hour plus runtime, Army of Thieves eventually overstays its welcome.
Dieter and the gang aren’t going to get stopped at the first or second heist. There’s a reason why Danny and the rest of Ocean’s Eleven didn’t pull off multiple heists in the films. If there’s announced levels before the grand finale, those steps aren’t nearly as dramatic.
The action sequences are solid with capably competent direction that almost overcomes the lack of suspense. Emmanuel gets to showcase some action chops she hasn’t been able to do in the Fast and Furious series and pulls them off well.
Hatten doesn’t want viewers to forget the connection to Army of the Dead, but clumsily accomplishes it with forced nightmares of Dieter being chased by zombies. Since Dieter gets recruited to join the Vegas squad in Army of the Dead it was a challenge to come up with an organic connection between the two films beyond a common character.
Of course the obvious question is given the fact the two films came out in the same year was there any reason Army of Thieves couldn’t have come out first?
It seems like every studio wants a shared connected universe a la the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but none want to put in the foundational, logical groundwork to make it succeed.
Army of Thieves is an average heist film that never quite pulls off the job of serving as a necessary prequel to a zombie movie. Schweighöfer and Emmanuel have some moments, but AOD fans aren’t going to miss out from skipping this one.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix