Review by Sean Boelman
It’s interesting that Netflix banked so heavily on fans’ goodwill towards a particular character in Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead that they greenlit and produced a prequel/spin-off before the main title was even released, but that risk paid off. Army of Thieves is a straightforward heist adventure, but its charming nature makes it more enjoyable than the original film.
The movie follows a young German safecracker who is recruited by a team of ambitious thieves to pull off an extraordinary heist as the world is distracted by the onset of the zombie apocalypse. It’s a pretty simple heist film structure, with a few smaller heist sequences leading to a massive climax in the final act.
Admittedly, the movie does lose a lot of its steam in the third act because there is a bit of repetition involved. It’s essentially structured around the eponymous team cracking three increasingly difficult safes. And while the challenge is supposedly increasingly large with each one, the excitement drops with each. In fact, the best sequence in the film is not one of the heists, but rather, a safe-cracking competition early in the movie.
The budget of the film is obviously quite a bit smaller than its Vegas-set bigger brother, but it’s still pretty impressive as a globe-trotting adventure. Since there aren’t many big set pieces, the action sequences here are more dependent on the editing, which results in them feeling a lot smoother, even if they don’t have Snyder’s flashy visual style.
Dieter was a fan-favorite character in Army of the Dead because of his lovable charm and quirkiness, and it is interesting to see him come into that in this movie. Although it’s a bit unrealistic to see someone acquire a heroic personality over the course of one two-hour film, the character is still impossible to hate. The rest of the team isn’t as memorable as the team of Army of the Dead.
Matthias Schweighöfer (who also directs the movie himself) reprises his role from Snyder’s film and shows that he has what it takes to be a leading man. It isn’t often that a comedic side character is able to turn into the hero of a movie like this, but it works here. The other highlight in the cast is Nathalie Emmanuel (the Fast Saga).
For those wondering what this film adds to the Army of the Dead mythology… the answer is not much. There are a few offhand mentions of zombies, news clips in the background, and a few dream sequences involving zombies, but there’s not much going on here in a horror sense. It’s more of a standalone adventure with the character than an expansion of the world.
Army of Thieves is an all-around fun time, and while it doesn't set its sights as high as Army of the Dead, it meets its less ambitious goals more fully. It’s a fun action flick to stream on Netflix and forget about soon after the credits roll.
Army of Thieves hits Netflix on October 29.