The very existence of this movie feels like a joke. In a wasteland of endless remakes, spin offs, prequels and sequels, I cannot conceive of a better apotheosis of pointlessness than a film recounting the backstory of a safe cracker from “Army of the Dead,” a movie everyone thought was okay, and nobody still talks about. Sure, “Army of the Dead” was a fun enough movie and the character of Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer) was an endearing comic relief highlight. However, he wasn’t exactly screaming for development especially considering how (spoilers) he dies in an unnecessary and ultimately pointless self sacrifice in his debut film. To center an entire spin off movie around his never before mentioned lengthy backstory, only six months after the original film came out, seems absurd. But here we are. “Army of Thieves” exists and isn’t a joke. I guess the film industry is the real joke.
“Army of Thieves” is a heist film and pseudo prequel to “Army of the Dead,” also directed by Zack Snyder. Taking place a few years before the events of the first movie, we follow freelance safe-cracker Ludwig Dieter who, after the zombie apocalypse in Las Vegas causes a financial crisis, is recruited by a gang of professional thieves, led by the mysterious Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), to rob a series of highly sophisticated vaults before they are decommissioned. Dieter, drawn out of his hum-drum life by the promise of adventure and his attraction to Gwendoline, aids the crew on their quest, plotting to crack the three unbreakable safes for legend and glory, all the while dodging attacks from interpol and from within the tumultuous band of criminals themselves. Now, after having described the events of this film, I will remind you that the film is a prequel to “Army of the Dead,” a movie about a group of mercinaries and crooks infiltrating a zombie infested Las Vegas, to rob a casino, all before a nuclear bomb is set to anhilate the city. All this, and a subplot about evolved intelligent warrior zombie clans. Does “Army of Thieves” sound like a spinoff of this movie? It doesn’t even sound like it’s the same genre.
Comparing investment, creativity, tension and memorability between the two films, “Army of Thieves” may as well be the prequel to the Care Bears Movie for how related they feel. There is no comparison. The ensemble of kooky, intriguing characters is nowhere near as kooky or intriguing as the original. The stakes are lower, the tension lax, the creative elements absent, and the engagement unobtainable. The character of Dieter is fun but he was fun in “Army of the Dead” as well. We didn’t need this 127 minute elaboration on him, he’s not that interesting. The big arc he gets is that he goes from a nobody who is bored with his life to a guy with a sense of purpose and a romance with Gwendoline. It’s not exactly groundbreaking. As a protagonist, Dieter is so standard and relatively unchanging that he feels like a side character in his own movie, the spectre of his imminent horrible demise in “Army of the Dead” certainly doesn’t aid my investment in him. But any heist film can be carried by the strength of its heists, and “Army of Thieves” has three of them so surely it must hold up. Right? Sadly the heist sequences in “Army of Thieves” are so anemic and boneless they can’t hold themselves up, let alone carry this movie.
The problem here, again, can be sourced to “Army of the Dead.” That was also a heist flick but it was a ceaselessly tense and creative one, where the crooks were under the constant threat of gruesome death and the circumstances of the crime were unique and imaginative. Any heist in any film would look like small potatoes in comparison, but “Army of Thieves” does itself no favors by having some of the most rinky-dink boring heist sequences I have ever yawned through. They steal from one safe and nobody notices. They steal from the second and fake another robbery to get out, and they steal the third safe and solve it in a moving truck. There’s some trickery and some fake outs but no air duct crawling, hostage switcheroos, volvo’s driving down hallways or skin of the teeth escapes. This could be any heist film ever, and given how the zombie apocalypse is happening invisibly off screen on the opposite side of the world, it feels like it could be the spin off to any movie ever as well. The only somewhat engaging part of these sequences are the safe cracking scenes themselves, where Dieter plays Wagner Operas and muses about the history and mythic symbolism of the legendary puzzle safes he’s infiltrating. But even then, a filmmaker can only make turning dials and tumblers so engaging. Here he breaks into three safes that he says are progressively harder to crack but what that amounts to is simply that the harder ones take more time. Hate to be a broken record, but in “Army of the Dead,” Deiter cracking the safe in the casino was a massive deal and he almost failed multiple times. It was tense and fascinating to watch and what we get in “Army of Thieves” is the watered down, bargain bin version.
I suppose that’s the perfect summation of this movie. “Army of Thieves” is DLC for “Army of the Dead,” but not the kind of DLC that is good enough to be its own game. This is the DLC where you get a couple more quests, some more crafting options, and a cosmetically cool sword that you swing around a couple times and then never equip again. It’s fine enough but reeks of redundancy and oozes pointlessness. Lacking the memorability and creativity of its predecessor, I would recommend not letting “Army of Thieves” steal your time as it did mine.