Who would have thought that director Zack Snyder would have the comeback he’s had post his tenure with Warner Bro’s and the Snyderverse? Thanks to a remarkable fan petition that took over the internet – #releasethesnydercut, Snyder was able to deliver his ultimate vision of Justice League (titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League) earlier this year with a 4-hour cut of the film. Thankfully, his follow up film released by Netflix Army of the Dead is not anywhere close to that runtime, but the implications of that film has snowballed into something completely special for his next chapter.
Before Army of the Dead even released, an entire universe was created parallel with the film including a prequel, sequel, and animated series. In my book that’s a huge win for both Netflix and Snyder but also posed a huge risk not knowing how well Army of the Dead would be received by critics and audiences alike.
That prequel – Army of Thieves creates an entire origin story for possibly the best character in Dead. The character being Ludwig Dieter, now known to be a pseudonym for Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert (Matthias Schweighöfer). Sebastian’s origin has him going from an ordinary mundane life as a bank teller / content creator with a fascination of safes and their lush history. Deeply inspired by locksmith Hans Wagner, Sebastian gets recruited by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) to an underground competition to test his skills. Passing the competition, Sebastian joins the “Army” that includes hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), driver Rolph (Guz Khan) and leader/muscle Brad Cage (Stuart Martin). Together the team plans to crack 3 of the 4 Wagner safes that are proven to be uncrackable.
As a heist film Army of Thieves has all the familiar tropes one would assume to be included in a film. Director / actor Matthias Schweighöfer takes these tropes and adds his own flavor to them as the film speeds by at a quick pace. Never slowing down to catch its breath for too long, the film is over just as it gets started, adding a Norse mythology behind Ludwig’s skillset. The quick pace works for this film; Matthias gets right to the point – never overindulging in the basic premise of his story. Get in, get out and don’t get caught.
I can’t help but notice how similar this and its predecessor Dead bare resemblance to the Fast & Furious Franchise. Just replace the cars with a contained zombie apocalypse (currently ravaging Nevada and Sebastian’s dreams) and include Nathalie Emmanuel. Brad Cage (sounds like a fighter’s name in Mortal Kombat) is Dom, only a much more self-centered, conceited version, Rolph is Brian, Korina is Tej, Sebastian is Roman and Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) is Hobbs.
With the little time we are with this group of highly trained criminals (and Sebastian) their chemistry isn’t groundbreaking, but it gets the job done with the added exposition to form attachment. Really the only characters that get the spotlight are Sebastian and Gwendoline who form a deep connection rather quickly. They’re the two taking the most risk out of the team, cracking the safes while the others screw things up – another trope seen in heist films.
Perhaps the standout element in Army of Thieves happens between Sebastian and Gwen’s romance (though it can be seen from a mile away). Matthias and Nathalie have great on-screen chemistry together and it shows in their dialogue and in their one-on-one scenes. But even for a loner like Sebastian who makes YouTube videos about safecracking which no one watches, he’s not completely a lost cause, Matthias gives his character some desirable qualities bringing an extraordinary enthusiasm to the character. Even though he’s viewed as the loser of the group, Sebastian is the underdog you can’t help but root for – he’s extremely relatable.
Army of Thieves just like its predecessor has a crisp and clean aesthetic with a pleasing color palette. Not exactly groundbreaking or adding any new concepts to a genre, Army of Thieves takes a supporting character who stole the show in Dead and gave him his own origin story. Greenlighting this franchise before the first film hit the streaming service was a bold move that paid off. Both films coming as a surprise with how charming they are more so with Thieves.
I didn’t mind The Social Network esque underground safecracking competition – something to get Sebastian’s legend started.
Written By: Shay Hatten
Directed By: Matthias Schweighöfer
Music By: Hans Zimmer & Steve Mazzaro
Cinematography: Bernhard Jasper
Starring: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
My Score: 3 out of 5