Army of Thieves Synopsis: A mysterious woman recruits bank teller Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) to lead a group of aspiring thieves on a top-secret heist during the zombie apocalypse.
Viewers mileage may have varied for some, but I love what Zack Snyder brought to the table with Army of the Dead. The visceral auteur conjured a wide range of horror and science fiction influences to create a relentless, bullet-ridden heist vehicle that wasn’t without thematic impact (Snyder and company effectively ruminate on the damaging allure of wealth). When the film found its groove, few big-budget blockbusters could top its controlled brand of mania.
Less than six months later, the franchise has returned with the prequel story Army of Thieves. Led by Matthias Schweighöfer as the eccentric safe breaker Ludwig Dieter, Thieves wears the influences of its 2021 predecessor while carving its place in the heist genre. While the film may not fully crack the genre’s code, Schweighöfer’s sincere adoration for this character and universe shines through the imperfections.
As writer, director, and star, Schweighöfer admirably defines Thieves as its own oddity. The decision to feature Ludwig in a starring role imbues new spunky energy to the proceedings, with the character’s puppy-dog good-nature and offbeat comedic streak always finding a way to engage. Thieves center its sights on Ludwig’s journey through a famed safe maker’s iconic creations – a premise that generates surprising humanity out of the character’s obsession with his craft. More than anything, I was impressed by the film’s ability to generate an ever-beating heart under all the heist machinations. The film never falls into cash-grab prequel territory as Schweighöfer crafts a genuine labor of love to his quirky, fan-favorite character.
Snyder’s grand visceral scale isn’t present, yet Schweighöfer embeds his personality to the proceedings. The action pops with a blend of stylized edits and inventive set-pieces, while the relentlessly-paced narrative rarely lets up on its brand of kinetic carnage. Ludwig’s new team of misfit criminals also define their place in the shared universe. The new cast also blends their cliched archetypes with vibrant streaks of personality. Nathalie Emmanuel is a standout in particular, as the actor’s effervescent charm creates an amiable confidant for Ludwig to confine in.
I enjoyed Army of Thieves, but the film struggles to recreate some of Dead’s best elements. As a writer, Schweighöfer’s brand of self-referential barbs endures a rocky road of mixed results. For every well-constructed joke, some bits try too hard to seem clever. Schweighöfer’s thematic touch also lacks Snyder’s deft blending of story and theme. I like the idea of continuing Dead’s ruminations on our greed-ridden protagonists, yet Schweighöfer fails to build upon the original’s foundation.
Inconsistencies aside, Army of Thieves is a zombie-free spin-off that elicits plenty of earnest charm. Honestly, I hope this is the first of many spin-offs for the Army series, with these films packing just as much punch as their big-screen blockbuster peers.