It is rare that a prequel to a film that didn’t need one and no one actually asked for succeeds. Against all odds Army of Thieves is infinitely better than it ever should be. It even surpasses its predecessor, Army of the Dead, a middling and largely forgettable zombie/heist flick from Zack Snyder. Strangely, the best thing this prequel has going for it is Snyder’s absence in the director’s chair. It allows the film to simply exist on its own merits.
Army of Thieves is straightforward in both its plot and execution. It heavily relies on heist and romcom genre tropes but is elevated by a strong performance from its lead. Despite being not much more than the sum of its parts, Army of Thieves is more fun than you’d expect. It can potentially win over fans who weren’t all that thrilled with the idea of an ArmyVerse to begin with.
Mattias Schweighöfer directs a script from Shay Hatten (John Wick: Parabellum). Army of Thieves is a prequel origin story for safecracker Ludwig Dieter. Dieter is a brilliant but lonely and rather boring safe cracking expert. He has nothing but YouTube to share his expertise. Dieter works as a bank teller and lives a rather ordinary life. His videos getting no traction despite his excitement and expert knowledge.
He is soon contacted by a mysterious woman who invites him to a safecracking Olympics so to speak. He wins and is soon propositioned by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) to embark on a series of heists centered around cracking some of these most advanced and beautifully crafted safes known to man.
CLICHE HEAVY BUT STILL FUN
Army of Thieves is about as cliché as you can get when it comes to the heist genre. It offers little to no surprises throughout the films long two hour run time. The film is wholly predictable from start to finish, and seldom deviates from the typical heist movie blueprints. Despite this familiarity and trope filled narrative, Army of Thieves is surprisingly enjoyable. It seems to be having a lot of fun operating in such a safe space (pun intended). Army of Thieves rarely slows down once it gets going. The need to tie it all into Army of the Dead is actually a detriment.
The franchise connectors are actually the least interesting aspects of the film. Army of Thieves would honestly be served better if it just existed as its own. That being said, the connections to Army of the Dead are few and far between. Schweighöfer and Hatten opted to put the present story at hand at the forefront. This is a common mistake that many other franchises have committed while trying to catch up to Marvel. It’s refreshing to see a non MCU prequel film like Army of Thieves actually take proper notes for success for once.
THE STAR OF ARMY OF THIEVES SHINES THE BRIGHTEST
Where Army of Thieves really shines is with Schweighöfer himself as Ludwig Deiter. While he was mildly enjoyable in Army of the Dead, he absolutely breaks through when given his own story. Schweighöfer is charming, awkward and captivating. Just weird enough to be unique and interesting without being off-putting or unlikeable. He’s the kind of guy you root for, and his love for safes feels as genuine as it is humorous. The rest of his fellow robbers have similar reactions to his antics as we do, which is a good thing. There’s a self awareness about the character as well as the film as a whole, and Schweighöfer elevates the basic trope heavy narrative into something far more interesting than it looks on paper.
Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O Fee, Guz Khan and Stuart Martin all do fine in their respective roles, but they’re relegated to a little more than their character bios and not much else. They comprise the rest of Ludwig’s crew, and are pretty much exactly with they say they are when he meets them: Gwendoline is the mastermind, Korina is the hacker, Rolph is the driver and Brad Cage is the muscle. Army of Thieves attempts to give some kind of purpose to Gwendoline outside of her respective moniker, but falls a little short in making any of that believable. No one turns in a bad performance, but everyone sans Schweighöfer isn’t given much room to explore anything other than what the heist trope dictates for their character.
Better Than It’s Predecessor?
I won’t lie, I wasn’t the least bit interested in seeing Army of Thieves, as Army of the Dead did little to pique my interest in the overall franchise. But Army of Thieves is wildly disarming and surprisingly better than one might think, and I would recommend not allowing your thoughts on Snyder’s film to influence your viewing of this. While they may exist in the same universe and feature the same character in both, Army of Thieves thrives by only having Snyder in a producer and story by role instead of at the helm, and it completely changes the tone and feel of the film for the better. Add a terrific performance from the films lead and decent score from Hans Zimmer, and you’ve got a prequel we didn’t ask for that’s better than we could’ve hoped for.
Army of Theives is better than you might think, and while it isn’t necessarily changing the game for heist or romcom films, it’s a fun, enjoyable movie watching experience. It’s worth cracking open (pun intended again) the old Netflix and giving it a shot.