A reclusive bank teller joins a motley group of Interpol’s most wanted, with the goal of breaking into a series of uncrackable safes across Europe. People suppose this is the quasi-prequel movie that no one asked for, but there are going to be consequences when you married uber-geek god Zack Snyder to a streaming powerhouse like Netflix. The past of Ludwig Dieter, the skilled safecracker shown in the zombie heist film released a few months earlier, is explored in this second installment of the Army of the Dead universe.
Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), whose true name is Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, is a shy small-town bank teller in Potsdam who has a not-so-secret hobby of safecracking that he gleefully uploads on YouTube. A unknown stranger approaches Dieter through it, inviting him to an underground safecracking championship in Berlin. Dieter finally meets the intriguing Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), who exposes our shy bean-counter to the world of high-stakes heists, following his comfortable victory in the competition. Dieter’s team also includes wunderkind hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver and all-around drifter Rolph (Guz Khan), and douchey strongman Brad (Stuart Martin). While the ladies of the gang are getting used to their new arrival, Brad and Rolph aren’t so sure about Gwendoline’s decision. Dieter, on the other hand, swiftly disproves them when their heist in Paris goes off without a hitch, but their problems rapidly escalate with each subsequent robbery, leading to unpredictable endings.
Because I’m unfamiliar with Schweighöfer’s past work, I can’t say whether his style is there or absent in this movie, but one thing is certain: Snyder’s signature visual flair is evident. Think of Army of Thieves with a less serious, more comedic Zack Snyder film, because that’s exactly what it is. But in this case, it works in the movie’s favor because it’s supposed to be a prequel to Army of the Dead, so there’s some visual consistency there. Looking past Schweighöfer’s Snyder impersonation talents, he does a great job with some of the characters, but not all, and Shay Hatten’s formulaic writing bears some of the burden. While the parts with Emmanuel, O. Fee, and Schweighöfer are quite entertaining, the scenes with the other actors, particularly Jonathan Cohen’s Delacroix, just make you cringe. These bland caricature characters are thinly written and generally forgettable, threatening to sink the entire film, but Schweighöfer’s fish-out-of-water schtick and Emmanuel’s effortless charm keep the ship afloat. Onscreen, the sexy Game of Thrones vet is so compelling that she almost takes Schweighöfer’s thunder each time she appears.
As befitting a heist action comedy, Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s score is infectious and breezy, while DOP Bernard Jasper’s photography is equally on spot, visually connecting to Snyder’s Army of the Dead. Finally, a particular mention goes to Christian Eisele, the film’s production designer, who was responsible for acquainting three inanimate safes with a great heritage and their own individual character. You’ve really exceeded yourself, man.
Army of Thieves is a pastiche of better heist movies from the past, but it doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable and engaging in the best possible ways. So turn off your intellect, embrace the absurdity, and have a good time.