The word “prequel” has, to some, become a bit of an obscenity when it comes to movies like Netflix’s Army of Thieves. Running backwards in time isn’t always a guaranteed strategy when building out a potential cinematic universe, and it usually comes with a bit of jitters from the audience that’s looking for more of their favorites. But when you have someone like Zack Snyder overseeing everything under the tent, and he trusts an actor/director like Matthias Schweigöfer to steer the ship, even a change in genre can’t stop the runaway fun and games that result with Army of Thieves.
Taking place “some time” before Army of the Dead‘s apocalyptic events, Army of Thieves introduces us to a somewhat different Dieter (Schweighöfer). A meek bank teller whose hobbies consist of vlogging and safecracking, his ultimate obsession is to crack a legendary set of safes designed by an equally iconic craftsman. With a zombie apocalypse starting to brew over in the United States, and the head of an international heist team (Nathalie Emmanuel) recruiting him at the right time, Dieter’s origins as a professional thief start to take shape.
Through three safes of increasing difficulty, scattered throughout the continent in different cities of note, Army of Thieves turns Ludwig Dieter into the man we met in Zack Snyder’s film, and does so with much less carnage, as a major genre change is in order to tell the tale at hand.
Army of Thieves doesn’t require you to have seen or liked Army of the Dead to properly work its charms.
Launching a cinematic universe that Netflix can call its own, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead was the first stake in the ground for a world of heist action and battles against the undead. Matthias Schweighöfer’s Dieter, the eager and comedic safe cracker that fought through zombie hell alongside Dave Bautista and the rest of the ensemble cast… but that’s basically about all you need to know about Army of the Dead to have a good time with Army of Thieves.
Playing more like The Italian Job than Day of the Dead, Army of Thieves gives us more of Matthias Schweigöfer’s fan-favorite character, but in a new and exciting genre playground. Hatched by Zack Snyder and Army of the Dead co-writer Shay Hatten, this outing is a much lighter affair than its predecessor. The living dead are seen very little in Army of Thieves, but their presence is still felt and properly built into the story surrounding Dieter’s criminal origins. So even if you weren’t a fan of the previous film’s events, or haven’t even dug into that story at all, Army of Thieves represents something that everyone can equally enjoy.
Matthias Schweighöfer’s mastery, in front of and behind the camera, makes Army of Thieves an insanely fun ride.
Hand picked by Zack Snyder himself, Matthias Schweighöfer’s directing Army of Thieves stems from Snyder believing he could further the story of Dieter in a proper fashion. That confidence is absolutely earned, as the actor/director’s understanding of the character is matched by his flare for putting together a slick and fast moving heist comedy. Built on a foundation of a mile a minute comedic repartee, and packed with all of the heist tropes you could want to honor or dissect, Army of Thieves gains momentum quickly and doesn’t let up.
Despite the difference in genre and the lack of undead adversaries, Army of Thieves absolutely fits into the sort of enterprise that Zack Snyder is trying to build with this universe. Acting as the bridge to both worlds, Matthias Schweighöfer binds these projects together through his quirky character. But when it comes to his directing, Schweighöfer’s efforts in the film go toe-to-toe with Snyder’s. Romance, comedy, and safecracking action are the central tenets of Army of Thieves, and the resulting movie is an effortless blockbuster from its director’s unique skill set.
A fun and refreshing heist comedy, Army of Thieves is a blockbuster that has fun with itself, and encourages the audience to do the same.
Ludwig Dieter is a character that have could very easily became an example of “too much of a good thing.” Instead, Army of Thieves uses him as an effective hook to further deepen the lore of the Army of the Dead series in a meaningful way for fans that are looking for more. But that doesn’t prevent Matthias Schweigöfer from being able to deliver a movie that’s so refreshingly different from what’s come before that even newcomers will be able to enthusiastically jump into the game. Dieter’s appeal is a door that opens both ways to the Army of the Dead saga, with this movie allowing old fans to return and new fans to move forward.
There’s plenty of room for character and world building, but none of it gets in the way of Army of Thieves acting as an insanely entertaining stand-alone. With the formation of a franchise always being a touchy matter, any decision to expand a story can be a blessing or a curse. In this case, Army of Thieves absolutely breaks the bank with charm and style, much like any professional thief would do on their best assignment. But much Dieter and some of his likeminded team members, this movie isn’t interested merely interested in making off with a score; it’s all about having fun and proving itself because it can.