Return to the world of Army of the Dead in this fittingly titled prequel – Army of Thieves. Focusing on the safe-cracking origins of Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), this story follows a team of elusive thieves planning a series of daring heists to crack some of the world’s most uncrackable safes.
One of the great things about heist films is that even if they’re not amazing, they’re usually always somewhat enjoyable simply due to the naturally thrilling essence of the genre. Army of Thieves doesn’t particularly reinvent the genre in any way, but it does enough to present a really fun safe-cracking adventure that effectively stands on its own. The tricky thing with this prequel would have been deciding how much to connect it to the events of Army of the Dead, assuming audiences had already seen that film. Screenwriter Shay Hatten has struck a nice balance here – crafting a story that is entirely understandable and enjoyable on its own, while also including a number of neat references to remind audiences that there’s a zombie apocalypse happening on the other side of the world. There may be one or two visual references that felt strange and out of place in the context of what this film is about, but overall the little nods here and there are fantastic for building on this world.
One concern I had going into this film is that I didn’t feel like there were enough interesting qualities about the safecracker, Ludwig Dieter, in Army of the Dead to warrant his own standalone origin film. However, once he’s the focus of an entire feature-length film, it turns out he’s actually got an intriguing backstory and personality, along with a number of likeable qualities that didn’t stand out in the aforementioned zombie film. His character backstory actually makes for a cool narrative, and it’s elevated by the presence of multiple heist sequences – which is what everyone checking out this film wants to see.
The various heist sequences are all very unique, with each one taking on a slightly different angle that eliminates any repetitiveness in the story. When these heists hit, the film is at its absolute best – enhancing the tension and kicking the overall pace into high gear. These sequences are where Army of Thieves is at its most fun, seeing this crack team of personalities putting their individual skills to good use in tackling these daring heists. Full of suspense and heightening excitement levels, these moments do well to flip the script a little whenever it feels like it’s going down a strictly predictable route.
Despite the heist sequences being really fun, and a number of the character-centric moments in-between actually being pretty neat and engaging, there are some pacing issues. The runtime could have been slightly trimmed down to keep the tempo of the pacing on a high the majority of the time. Unfortunately, there’s a few of the “in-between” sequences that slow the momentum a little too much. The content of these scenes is heavily character-focused, centred on building relationships and a greater understanding of our main crew’s backstories, which is great – however, in the grand scheme of things, some of it can feel a little bit like padding. Since we’re on gripes of the film, the attempts at comedy don’t really hit. Thankfully it’s a pretty serious-toned film, so there’s not many attempts at humour, but the few shots they do take don’t pay off.
In terms of performances, it’s a pretty strong outing from the lead crew. Matthias Schweighöfer leads the film with a really engaging performance. He fully commits to the role and you can tell how much he loves playing this character. I might also add that Matthias does a pretty good job in the director’s chair. He brings everything together in a neat way, tells a cohesive story and ensures it’s a fun ride the whole way through. Nathalie Emmanuel is equally as interesting as Gwendoline, another member of this army of thieves. She just has this charm about her that she brings to almost all of her roles, including this one. She’s infinitely likeable and makes every scene that she’s in that extra little bit more fun to watch. Likewise, I admired the rest of the supporting cast, besides perhaps Jonathan Cohen, who plays the Interpol agent hunting down the group. His performance seemed too exaggerated and over-the-top, even for this film. He played up the cartoony element of this role a little too much, kind of like he’s Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny – which is obviously not fitting for this film.
In the end, Army of Thieves feels somewhat on par with Army of the Dead in that it doesn’t present any groundbreaking ideas within the genre, but it does everything well enough to where you can have plenty of fun with an entertaining heist thriller. The heist sequences are worth the watch, the character-centric narratives are good, and the central performances are very solid. There’s the occasional pacing issue and absence of any effective comedic beats, but nonetheless it’s still a fun, easy-to-watch, standalone heist story that is cohesive and rewarding, regardless of whether you’ve seen Army of the Dead or not.