Army of Thieves Movie Review: Underwhelming heist film that doesn't steal the deal
The prequel to Army of the Dead is troubled by a cliched, predictable screenplay that underutilises all scope it boasts of
Zack Snyder's zombie film Army of the Dead, a spiritual sequel to his Dawn of the Dead, had a lot of good things to boast, one of which was the intriguing character of a safecracker named Ludwig Dieter. A standalone film that follows his story is the recently released Army of Thieves.
Though it is a prequel to the zombie film, this heist-thriller is set after the zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, with the story leading up to the events of the zombie film. The story follows Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert a.k.a Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) - a fan-favourite character from the previous film. Leading a lonely life as a bank teller in Potsdam, Germany, Sebastian's passion for safecracking seems to be the only fuel in his life. He channels it through a YouYube channel, which garners zero views. After all, who cares about safecracking? That's what he thought, but Sebastian is in for a world of surprise when an international thief Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) discovers his channel and invites him to a safecracking competition.
Director: Matthias Schweighofer
Cast: Matthias Schweighofer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan
Streaming on: Netflix
Matthias takes absolute control in these scenes, and the writing seems promising. Imagine being the expert in a skill that nobody cares about, and you are pulled into a world full of people like you. Matthias effortlessly sells the emotion and you root for him. Gwendoline then offers to recruit Sebastian to her team of thieves, who are planning to crack four of the world's most complex safes called the Wagner's Ring Cycle, all built by a late legendary locksmith Hans Wagner. Wagner's story is by itself an emotional, moving tale that makes you wish for a standalone feature for his backstory.
Gwendoline's team is essentially a small group of extraordinary people with a unique skill set. There's a tech-savvy hacker Korina (Ruby O Fee), a macho action figure come-to-life Brad Cage (Stuart Martin), and a skilled getaway driver Rolph (Guz Khan) - a team that embodies every stereotypical heist film gang. In fact, even the film turns meta and points this as a cliche, but nothing positive turns out from here. By this time, you are already worried if the film is going to get predictable from here on.
Every single heist that the group pulls off shows a lot of promise. The musical score, brilliant VFX, and Sebastian quirks should have made these scenes stand out. However, this isn't the case. At a time when we are so used to seeing grand bank robbery scenes, Army of Thieves should have made you go '"Wow!", but everything that follows is bland, with no redemption. Moreover, though we know Sebastian is the most talented of safecrackers, he should face some obstacles while cracking these safes to keep us hooked, right? That never happens and by the time he reaches the final safe, you are no longer invested. To add misery, the film also banks on the tried-and-tested heist film troupes, such as an untimely betrayal and a budding romance between two teammates.
Army of Thieves did have a lot of scope that goes entirely underutilised. For example, the characters of Sebastian and Korina show a lot of promise. Korina, particularly, comes across as a weird, quirky woman who can potentially surprise you in many places. In one particular scene, she masquerades as a party-goer and offers a cigarette to a sniper on a roof. Just as he shifts his attention, she knocks him out, takes off his earpiece and replaces it with that cigarette. It's bound to make you chuckle. In fact, Korina seems more interesting than Gwendoline. Nathalie bears a static expression throughout the film, and you never begin to care about Gwendoline's quest to crack Wagner's Ring Cycle. Only Matthias and Ruby shine through with their performances.
When it comes to Sebastian's character, unfortunately, it suffers from the same trouble that Marvel's Natasha Romanoff suffered in her recently released standalone film, Black Widow. When a character dies in a previous film, the emotional arc has to have enough depth and reason for you to back them in a prequel. Though Black Widow had a reason for it - the characters and events of that film are relevant for a few upcoming films - but we still don't know what the future holds for the Army of the Dead franchise. Further, the Army of Thieves keeps reminding you of this through repeated foreshadowing of the zombie story.
One can't really point out an issue with Zack Snyder's story here, but his absence in screenplay writing and direction seems evident, especially to the ones who have seen Army of the Dead. Shay Hatten, who had co-written the previous film, has taken it all upon him and his fruitless screenplay hurts the film badly. At the end of the day, it is the hopes of the fans that get stolen by an underwhelming instalment. Hopefully, the upcoming Planet Of The Dead should help us forget this misstep of a film.