Early in 2021, pop-culture filmmaker Zack Snyder promised Netflix a franchise to rival the juggernauts of Marvel and DC, a zombie universe that would explore the many scenarios of such bloodthirsty ghouls. Army of the Dead was the spark hoping to cause a viral storm on social media, with Zach Snyder’s transparent business proposition offering several vague foundations on which future films were expected to build from.
Army of Thieves is the first attempt at fleshing out the boney corpse of the establishing film, charting the origins of Ludvig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) one of the many side characters who ventured into the Las Vegas zombieland in the Army of the Dead. A mischievous and enigmatic character, Dieter is one of the few characters who felt deserving of an origins tale, so it’s a shame that the crew behind the film failed to fill his story with any kind of intrigue or gravity.
Whilst this addition to the universe only has the looming shadow of Zack Snyder in the role of producer, his influence can be felt like a burrowing tick, sucking any originality from writer Shay Hatten or director Matthias Schweighöfer to replace it with his own flashy nonsense. Detailing the life of a master safecracker is a concept with promise too, with the film following the rise of Ludvig Dieter from regular everyman to international bank thief with occasional success and consistent monotony.
Starting with promise, we are quickly introduced to Dieter before he inextricably finds himself in an underground safe-cracking competition in Berlin, an operation filled with eccentric characters that feels illegal whilst displaying absolutely nothing that breaks the law. It’s a silly, nonsensical and utterly joyous scene that stands out as a high-point, displaying an original concept that rides on the fuel of its own mindlessness. Unfortunately, actor/director Matthias Schweighöfer favours the fallback of cliche, dragging the lead character from his promising beginnings into a story far less exciting.
Joined by a band of unlikely antiheroes, much like the previous Army of the Dead, Dieter becomes the idiosyncratic safecracker alongside coordinator Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), strong man Brad Cage (Stuart Martin), techy Korina (Ruby O. Fee) and driver Rolph (Guz Khan). In a total retread of the series’ predecessor, the team feels trite and uninspiring, even commenting on their own banality throughout the film.
Such creates for a lacklustre, pointless tale of adventure and light escapade, in which several bumbling characters stumble their way to success, failure and new equilibrium. Whilst it is a somewhat enjoyable ride thanks to the lead performance of Matthias Schweighöfer as the eccentric lead, it remains an undoubtedly pointless one that teaches us very little about the lead character aside from a few charming origin scenes.
Quite what Zack Snyder had in mind for Army of Thieves is unclear, with the film showing little ambition or interest in being part of the wider zombie universe at all. Instead, it all feels a little lowbrow, a TV mini-series reserved for a Netflix short rather than a feature-length project. Though it is certainly more charming than Snyder’s juiced up frat-boy zombie flick Army of the Dead, it seems as though the series has a long way to go on its mission to create an industry-beating franchise.