Army of Thieves, 2021.
Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer.
Starring Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen, and Noémie Nakai.
A mysterious woman recruits bank teller Ludwig Dieter to lead a group of aspiring thieves on a top-secret heist during the early stages of the zombie apocalypse.
Before taking on the moniker Ludwig Dieter, there was Sebastian Schlencht-Wohnert, a standard workingman running a YouTube channel on the side breaking down safe cracking and diving into details of Hans Wagner’s life, a legendary craftsman that left behind a series of safes presumably impossible to crack, partly because they function as elaborate videogame puzzles complete with clues rooted in tragic Norse mythology. Of course, the final safe known as the Götterdämmerung was featured in Zack Snyder’s recently released Army of the Dead (he also has a story credit on this directly connected prequel), but in what can only be described as an act of DIY brand building, German filmmaker Matthias Schweighöfer (using a script from Shay Hatten) has taken it upon himself to flesh out the origins of that character with Army of Thieves. And maybe that could be seen as self-indulgent and unnecessary to some, but considering Dieter had the most personality of the supporting team members, not to mention a great deal of charisma, there’s no harm being done here.
With that said, Matthias Schweighöfer seems to be under the impression that the story being told here is far more important than it is, occasionally taking itself way too seriously while dragging itself out beyond the two-hour mark. There’s just not enough depth to the narrative or complexities to the characters (Army of Thieves even jokingly acknowledges that the team succumbs to the trope of each member essentially being defined by their unique ability) to sustain the movie for three separate heists. There is a fair amount of action that’s competently framed and shot, but no sense of urgency or genuine thrills, not only because it’s known where Sebastian’s story is going, but the predictability of every other element here.
Sebastian is approached by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) to join her international crime crew that also consists of tech whiz Korina (Ruby O. Fee), oafish getaway driver Rolph (Guz Khan), and Hollywood action hero impersonator Brad Cage as played by Stuart Martin (yes, the character has consumed a wealth of action cinema to the point of assuming a fake identity smashing together the names Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage). Like Sebastian, some are there to crack the safes for personal fulfillment and accomplishment, whereas others seek riches. Naturally, with most government agencies concerned with the birth of the zombie apocalypse in Nevada, now seems like the perfect time to strike.
At least, that’s what one would think. Interpol agent Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) has a grudge against the team and is determined to interrupt and stop the crime spree. Due to the background lore surrounding the safes (the Norse stories are also based on operatic drama from Richard Wagner, created in a specific order with each consecutive safe increasingly more difficult to crack), the Interpol team has an idea of where the team will be at all times. For whatever reason, Delacroix is also presented as a bumbling idiot, so the team ensuring they stick together becomes more paramount to success than any threat Interpol necessarily poses.
For Sebastian, getting roped into this highly illegal business also marks breaking out of his socially awkward shell and lonesome existence (his YouTube videos all have zero views until Gwendoline comes along, which sounds a bit far-fetched considering he demonstrates legitimate knowledge of both niche topics and how to break into things), falling for Gwendoline in the process. There is also some back story about her rebelling against being born into an upper-class family that has long stolen from the poor, having gotten into a criminal crowd since she was 17. It goes without saying that all of this will cause complications.
Overstuffed and overly formulaic (there is a self-awareness to how unoriginal this all is that is randomly dropped after the first heist, which feels like a mistake considering it is admittedly funny when the filmmakers are at least in on acknowledging they don’t have much in the way of creativity and would instead deconstruct staples of the genre), Matthias Schweighöfer and the character of Sebastian/Dieter is still charming to be around; there’s a healthy mix of bravery and self-deprecation. Army of Thieves even manages to end on a mildly emotional note regarding its conclusion and what awaits the character in Zack Snyder’s zombie heist. It’s just too overcrowded and generic to invest in before that fully. The one thing Matthias Schweighöfer can’t crack is how to execute this prequel.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com