It was only a few months ago that Netflix debuted Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, a generally entertaining if not particularly groundbreaking zombie heist film. A collection of affable, oddball characters gathered to rob a casino vault after Las Vegas had been locked down due to a zombie outbreak — it’s a solid premise and was capably executed. It certainly was a less divisive Snyder project than any of his DC Extended Universe work. Despite debuting to reviews best summed up as “fine,” Netflix greenlit a sequel and already produced a prequel, Army of Thieves, available now.
Army of Thieves is a bit of a deliberate misnomer: It’s actually five thieves, and only two that we should give a crap about. Centered on perhaps the most peculiar member of Dead’s ensemble, it shows the origin story — of sorts — of Ludwig (here named Sebastien), the high-strung safecracker. Sebastien, played by Matthias Schweighöfer (who also directed the film), is a nobody in this one — a white-collar drone who is fascinated by not just the skills of the great safecracker, but also the history and artistry. It’s not long before he’s recruited by the mysterious Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) to join her team as they endeavor to break into a series of infamously hard-to-crack safes. Along the way, they’re hunted by a ferociously motivated Interpol agent name Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) and have to deal with each other’s quirks and foibles.
And … that’s sort of it. Army of Thieves isn’t a particularly challenging watch, and honestly, it’s not even that exciting. It’s a heist film, but there isn’t much planning of substance beyond a few monologues about the safes themselves. The action is limited to a few car chases and some fistfights, but nothing of much interest. If anything, it’s the perfect complement — Army of the Dead is to zombie films what Army of Thieves is to heist films - occasionally fun, adequately entertaining, and not particularly memorable.
Not that Schweighöfer doesn’t do his best. His character of Sebastien/Ludwig is wonderfully entertaining, and he clearly has a gift for this sort of anxiety-ridden, hysterical comedic performance. Emmanuel carefully and capably walks the line between vampish badass and sympathetic charmer. It’s just that the rest of the cast — Stuart Martin as the lugheaded Brad, Ruby O. Fee as Korina the hacker, and Guz Khan as Rolph the getaway driver — aren’t much more than those titles suggest. Army of Thieves is less a movie and more an idea, something that seems like an outline that was never fully fleshed out. Writer Shay Hatten is certainly capable of better — he took the increasingly bizarre John Wick universe and expanded it cleverly in John Wick 3: Parabellum — but here he takes whatever Snyder’s first film gave him and gives it the barest amount of attention.
It’s also worth noting that there are no zombies in this. Or rather, it takes place as the Vegas outbreak is in its nascent stages and thus is only peripherally addressed. That’s fine — maybe even for the best — if it’s going to really elevate its misfits-on-a-heist story to something new. But instead, it’s a haphazard basket of cliches and rote characters, filled with unsurprising surprises and tongue-in-cheek plays on the genre’s tropes that stumble and instead are just … tropes. If not for the saving graces of Schweighöfer’s and Emmanuel’s performances, it would barely have a leg to stand on.