Army of Thieves (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – A prequel, set before the events of Army of the Dead, which focuses on German safecracker Ludwig Dieter leading a group of aspiring thieves on a top secret heist during the early stages of the zombie apocalypse.

My Take – Though the Zack Snyder directed Zombie actioner, Army of the Dead (2021), was by no means a perfect film, it sure did deliver on the entertainment quotient, with some elements working better than the others, with one particular stand out being the character of the nerdy German named Ludwig Dieter, played by Matthias Schweighöfer. Whose guileless wit and charisma made him easy to back as a prime candidate for his own spin-off (a direct sequel and an anime prequel series are also on the way).

A prequel story, which Matthias Schweighöfer himself directs, about how Dieter came to be present in the events of the Synder film.

However, most surprisingly, while Army of the Dead was classified as a horror with a heist at the center, the spin-off removes all elements of horror, and instead shifts genres to become a heist comedy with some romantic elements thrown in. Yes, there are zombies present, just not in the way you think.

The result is a film that maintains the same rambunctious energy and the zippy adventure thrill of its predecessor, is more formulaic and less memorable but still slickly effective, making it a strange next step for the Army franchise. Being a prequel, the film is at a disadvantage as we already know Dieter will crack all the safes and make it out safely, nonetheless, director Schweighöfer still manages to tell his story with the essential thrill of the heist caper so well that we just stick along the ride.

Written by Snyder and Shay Hatten, the film is breezy enough, charming enough and diverting enough to enjoy as we get to know about Schweighofer’s lovable safe cracker, and is intelligently pieced together from the heist film playbook with no attempts to reinvent the genre while keeping the plot enjoyable and straightforward, making it a cracking encounter.

Set six years before the events of Las Vegas, the story follows Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), who back then under his original name, Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, was living a mundane life as a bank teller in Potsdam, with little change in routine. Being obsessed with fictional safe designer Hans Wagner, whose master works were four puzzles inspired by the non-fictional composer Richard Wagner and his Ring Cycle operas, Sebastian runs a YouTube channel were he posts videos about his talent in safe-cracking. However, a single comment on his latest video, introduces him to a secret safe-cracking competition and Gwendoline Starr (Nathalie Emmanuel), a thief extraordinaire.

Who not only recruits him into her gang of international bank robbers which includes ace tech expert Korina Dominguez (Ruby O. Fee), their getaway driver Rolf (Guz Khan) and alpha action man Brad Cage (Stuart Martin), but offers him a dream opportunity to be the cracker to open the three legendary safes, namely the Rhinegold in Paris, the Valkyrie in Prague and the Siegfried in St. Moritz, before they were decommissioned by their new owner, Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada).

While Sebastian doesn’t care about the money, the irresistible allure of the challenge and the irresistible allure of Gwendoline, gets him to agree, despite never doing anything remotely criminal in his life. Meanwhile, Interpol agents Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) and his partner Beatrix (Noémie Nakai) are already hot on their heels to nab them.

The whole film is stitched together from the heist film playbook with no grand attempts to reinvent the genre, coasting on the simple pleasures of formula but joining dots with just about enough charm as we follow the ragtag team from city to city and safe to safe. To the point, there’s nothing markedly exactly necessary about this film but fan service that gives backstory to a character who we know dies later on, but Schweighöfer, also acting as director, keeps his frothy caper afloat with a light knockabout tone, never insisting the film as anything that it isn’t.

He’s made a pretty slick, often funny heist flick that slyly mocks the genre’s conventions while still indulging in them and keeps things moving with this decent sense of pacing, timing, and tension-building.

The fantastic score crafted by Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer blends excellently throughout the film, is expertly and intentionally placed to define the events of the various scenes.

Yes, spending some more time would have given the other characters some depth, but you get to learn a lot more about Ludwig Dieter here, with that not even his real name for a start. It fills you in on his background and why he’s so keen to join the crew in Army of the Dead, as he already has a long history with the legendary safe he’s been hired to crack.

Sure, it’s a little overlong for a film that should feel breezy, with the final act a little saggy as the inevitable double-crosses spill out. But the aspect of cracking these sophisticated safes is a new twist to the usual heist film story lines and injects some sort of intrigue into this title. By doing this the film does manage to bring to the table visually a more immersive representation of what cracking a safe actually entails, some nifty effects taking us inside the mechanics of the safe as Dieter works his magic. It’s a neat trick that adds vibrancy to an often rather non-engaging process.

Without a doubt, the film’s biggest asset is Matthias Schweighöfer who is fantastic both in front and behind the camera. With his hard to resist goofy gimmick that exudes a warm, well-executed performance, it is hard to not be constantly in awe of everything surrounding him. Surprisingly, he even stands aside to let his co-star, Nathalie Emmanuel steal the show. With a better role than the one in the Fast and the Furious series, Emmanuel gets to stretch herself in multiple sequences, proving why she deserves top billing.

Ruby O. Fee does her funny and quirky bit well, while Guz Khan and Stuart Martin despite getting the short end of the stick makes up for it. Jonathan Cohen and Noémie Nakai are alright. On the whole, ‘Army of Thieves’ is a quirky heist flick that manages to keep viewers entertained despite swapping genres.

Directed – Matthias Schweighöfer

Starring – Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee

Rated – R

Run Time – 127 minutes

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