Among all of the characters in Zack Snyder’s self-contained zombie apocalypse Netflix outing, Army of the Dead, I really didn’t expect the safecracker, Ludwig Dieter to get his own prequel film. You would think they would make a prequel focusing on the characters who were stuck in Las Vegas during the initial day of the outbreak, how they survived, met up and, ultimately, escaped. We did get a brief glimpse of that during the opening of Army of the Dead but all of that content could have been its own story in itself. Instead, Zack Snyder thought it would be more prudent to tell the story of the only guy who never had to survive the horrors of possibly getting devoured by the undead and tell his origin story in Army of Thieves. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Now, I’m willing to give Zack Snyder, the guy who co-wrote this story with the lead actor and director, Matthias Schweighofer, the benefit of the doubt. I did think Army of the Dead was a fun enough film, after all. So I booted up Netflix to check if Army of Thieves can, at the very least be as enjoyable as the film it’s following up… or preceding as it’s a prequel. It’s all very confusing.
Now, while this is already available worldwide on Netflix, there may be a small portion of people who either haven’t seen it or just trying to get a feel if Army of Thieves is worth plopping in your chair for 127 minutes. So, with that in mind, this review will still be a SPOILER FREE review.
Army of Thieves takes place just as the zombie outbreak is starting in Las Vegas, as seen in Army of the Dead. Introverted Sebastian, who has been practicing his entire life on how to open safes, is living a very mundane life as a bank teller. As he’s already an expert safecracker as well as incredibly knowledgeable regarding four legendary safes, he is recruited by a mysterious woman and her crew with the goal of cracking open each safe before they are decommissioned in the next few days. This has this ragtag army of thieves (see what I did there?) race around Europe in the hopes of being the first team to break into these supposedly impenetrable vaults while Interpol is hot on their tail.
The first thing I have to mention about Army of Thieves is that it clearly doesn’t have the same visual flair of Army of the Dead. That’s because, while both movies are produced by Zack Snyder, he only directed Army of the Dead. Army of Thieves was, as mentioned, directed by the lead, Matthias Schweighofer. This does mean it lacks the visual flair and interesting beats of a Zack Snyder helmed feature. It tries to be at times but these intermediate punches of style does feel forces, as if it’s trying to copy Zack Snyder’s directorial manner. It doesn’t work, sadly. Basically, Army of Thieves is less stimulating by comparison and I can’t help but think how much better it would be if there was more pizazz during the heists, safecracking bits and the action overall.
The acting here is definitely hit or miss. More accurately, it’s the casting of the roles. Some characters, like Guz Khan, who’s basically a comedian, as the lead Interpol detective is too intense at times. So, when he’s supposed to be funny, it doesn’t fit with the character. There’s also Stuart Martin who plays the “muscle” of the crew. The problem is he doesn’t come off as particularly strong or necessarily brutal when he needs to show off he’s strong or necessarily brutal. Nathalie Emmanuel is pretty good as Gwendoline, the leader of this so-called Army of Thieves, as she does hit the necessary emotional notes for her character. The only problem, and it’s a big problem, is that she lacks the necessary chemistry with Sebastian. Their connection feels incredibly superficial and, seeing as they’re the ones supposedly driving the story, it just comes off as disappointing.
There are a couple of standouts, though. Matthias Schweighofer is very good as Sebastian, the newbie thief and safecracker. Then again, he already was one of the better characters in Army of the Dead. He’s probably the best part of the film as he’s the most likable character here. While bumbling and cowardly, there’s still a certain charm to him. He’s not as cocky as he comes off in Army of the Dead, which makes total sense as he doesn’t have any real experience when it comes to safecracking at this time. But you do see him build up his confidence as the film progresses. That’s called character development, people!
The other shining star when it comes to performances is Ruby O. Fee, the free-spirited hacker of the crew. While she could be a little more quirky than she could be (as in a little more over the top), she does come off as having an actual personality that fits the actress. Or the actress is really good at giving off first impressions; I’ve never seen her in other roles that here. Either way, she does a fine job here in Army of Thieves.
Now, I generally like heist films. I like all of the planning and all of the twists and how things seems like it’s going badly but it’s actually part of the plan. I know it’s dumb and a little deus ex machina-ish but, if the writing is clever enough, I’ll eat it up. And that’s the problem with Army of Thieves; the writing just didn’t seem all that smart when compared to other heist movies. The jobs come off as very easy and simplistic so getting to the targets isn’t all that fun. The safecracking can be fun but there’s never really a catch to them. Additionally, there are some leaps of logic, overly complex plans as well as utterly unrealistic situations you have to swallow that I just couldn’t buy into. Maybe they would’ve worked if they expounded a little more on why they had to do it in that particular way but they just do it and it doesn’t make logical sense why.
It certainly doesn’t help that they constantly have to shoehorn in the fact that it’s a prequel to Army of the Dead. In the grand scheme of things, it feels totally unnecessary to do so. It does an okay job giving Sebastian’s backstory and a retrospective look as to why he’s so eager to break into a supposedly impenetrable vault right smack dab in the middle of a zombie horde in Army of the Dead. However, we really didn’t need that introspective while we were watching Army of the Dead, did we? The connection does feel extremely tangential as a result.
While I do have a lot of gripes with Army of Thieves, I can’t really say it’s a terrible movie. I’ve definitely seen worse films on Netflix or otherwise. I would say it’s okay but I wouldn’t really recommend going out of your way to see Army of Thieves. It’s disposable entertainment, for sure. But there are so many other heist films that are much better so you’re better off watching those first before even thinking of going to see Army of Thieves.
Have you seen Army of Thieves? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!