"Army of Thieves" stars Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, and Jonathan Cohen. Released on Netflix on October 29, 2021, the film is about a safecracker who is hired to pull off a heist with a group of thieves.
The film was directed by Matthias Schweighöfer, who also directed "What a Man", "Joy of Fatherhood", and "The Manny". It is a prequel to Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead". In some cases, you have to go back to the very beginning to see how it all went down. This film happens to be one of them. Back in May, Zack Snyder went back to his zombie roots with "Army of the Dead", a massive action film that combines "Dawn of the Dead" with "Ocean's 11". Despite the reviews being mixed, the film became one of the most-watched original films on Netflix. This prompted the visual filmmaker to expand the film's apocalyptic world with two prequels. One is an upcoming anime spin-off series, and the other is a film that I'm looking at today. If you haven't noticed already, I enjoyed the heck out of "Army of the Dead" when it first came out. It's not a perfect zombie film by any means, but it had enough stylistic flair, action, and humor to inject some fun into its bloated, undead blockbuster. This gave me the perfect excuse to check out its prequel, especially since Schweighöfer is leading the charge this time around, both as a director and the main lead. So was this heist entertaining enough to continue Snyder's zombie franchise, or does it prove that it should've stayed dead?
The film takes place before "Army of the Dead", where a zombie outbreak has infected most of the Earth's population. During that time, a bank teller named Sebastian (Schweighöfer) is in his early days of safecracking. One day, he is approached by a mysterious woman named Gwendoline (Emmanuel) for a special mission. Sebastian is assigned to join forces with a misfit crew of thieves to crack three of the most complex safes in the world, leading him to become a safecracking master known as Ludwig Dieter. "Army of Thieves" took a much different direction compared to its predecessor. Instead of a heist amid the zombie apocalypse, the prequel puts the undead on the sidelines for a traditional heist film that combines action, romance, and comedy. Although, the zombies do make a brief appearance from time to time, just to let audiences know that it's connected to Zack Snyder's blockbuster. However, what works as an expansion of Snyder's zombie-filled planet can also work as a standalone film. Since this is a prequel, you should have no problem viewing it without watching "Army of the Dead". The only question that still stands is whether or not it's worth putting on your Netflix watch list. Based on what I saw, I would have to say it is. Unfortunately, it doesn't take a safecracking genius to know that the film didn't offer anything unique to its tedious formula. Well, aside from the zombie apocalypse in the background, but that didn't help much. You have an awkward yet intelligent main character (Sebastian) who wanted more out of their ordinary life, and you have a supporting character (Gwendoline) who happens to change that main character's life for the better. It also has a team of minor characters that's along for the ride, like hacker Korina (Fee), getaway driver Rolph (Khan), and gunman Brad Cage (Martin). Long story short, these characters were about as fundamental and formulaic as their skills. However, if you don't mind the genre cliches and just want to see a fun depiction of a guy cracking safes and screaming like a little girl, there's plenty to enjoy in this stylish and charismatic heist thriller. "Army of Thieves" provided some entertainment and flair in its heist scenes and comedy. More importantly, it also represented the importance of a safecracker and shared a couple of nods to the classic formula through dialogue. Matthias Schweighöfer is no stranger to both directing and starring in his films as seen in his previous works, so there's clearly some confidence shown in the actor/filmmaker regarding "Army of Thieves". As someone who hasn't seen Schweighöfer's other films, I was impressed at how he can direct specific sequences (including the safecracking scenes) while maintaining his composure as an actor. He kept Snyder's vision of the "Army of the Dead" universe, but at the same time, he also made the filmmaking style his own. It's swift, riveting, and, more importantly, appealing. As for Schweighöfer's performance as Sebastian (aka Ludwig), he's just as magnetic and charming as he was in "Army of the Dead". Some spin-offs or prequels with supporting comic reliefs as the primary focus tend to overstay their welcome compared to the originals. However, this film wound up being the opposite as Schweighöfer's character shines as both the charismatic lead and the comic relief. The rest of the cast also did their part in following suit, including Nathalie Emmanuel, who's no stranger to the heist genre after starring in the recent "Fast & Furious" films. Her performance as Gwendoline was decent enough for me to give her a pass. Guz Khan and Ruby O. Fee were also solid in their roles as Rolph and Korina, respectively. Stuart Martin, on the other hand, was just fine. Not terrible, but not great, either. He's just fine. Although, I can't say the same for his character Brad. He just grew more and more unlikeable as the film went on without any sense of charm whatsoever. In other words, he's a butthole, through and through. The film also fixed the runtime that became an issue for "Army of the Dead". "Army of Thieves" had a runtime of around two hours compared to "Dead", which was two-and-a-half hours long. It's an acceptable length that allows viewers to enjoy the safecracking scenarios without checking their watches.
Overall, "Army of Thieves" is a formulaic yet captivating showcase for Matthias Schweighöfer both as an actor and a director. It is also an enjoyable and slick expansion of Zack Snyder's zombified franchise that features very few zombies. While it doesn't reinvent the heist wheel, the film compensated greatly with its cast, visual style, and Schweighöfer's confident sense of direction. If you enjoy watching heist films or enjoy Schweighöfer's character in "Army of the Dead", this is the safe that's worth cracking.