Army of Thieves, 2021, directed by Matthias Schweighöfer — 2.5/5 Stars
It’s unclear why, exactly, Army of Thieves was made. Viewership of Zack Snyder’s zombie heist movie Army of the Dead was low, and its critical reception was lukewarm at best. So why Netflix thought it best to finance a largely disconnected prequel centered around a character that had hardly enough screen time to develop in the original movie is truly a mystery. All the same, though, Army of Thieves was released at the end of last month on the streaming platform. Snyder didn’t take the helm on this one; he instead passed it off to lead actor Matthias Schweighöfer, who has minimal past directorial experience, but clearly put a lot of heart into this new project. The film itself is largely forgettable, falling into countless tropes and struggling to keep a steady pace.
The movie’s biggest flaws lie in its writing and pacing. Schweighöfer plays bank teller turned master safecracker Ludwig Dieter, a sometimes annoying but ultimately likable character. Dieter is recruited by a team of skilled bank robbers, led by Nathalie Emmanuel’s character, the mysterious Gwendoline. The script tried to develop a romantic relationship between Dieter and Gwendoline, but the actors lack the chemistry to make the connection believable or memorable. Over the course of the film, the team of criminals seek to rob three of the world’s most famous safes, each with increasingly higher stakes. While the scenes where the robberies take place are fun and well shot, the story as a whole is bogged down by extended dialogue sequences between those moments, in which characters ramble about their pasts or their interpersonal relationships. Character development is necessary for engaging storytelling, but it’s safe to say that much of the film’s two-hour runtime could have been cut down by removing some of those longer, more discussion-heavy scenes. The movie also suffers from attempting to include zombie imagery to harken back to Army of the Dead, something that feels wholly out of place in what is mostly a straightforward heist movie.
The film’s visual effects are both a highlight and a detriment, at times used excellently to tell the story and at others sticking out like a sore thumb. When Dieter is cracking the safes, the viewer gets a polished, animated visual of the safe’s inner workings, shiny gears and bolts satisfyingly shifting and sliding to give the audience the ability to follow along with Dieter as he attempts to unlock the safe. Other times, cars and explosions don’t match the lighting of scenes, or actors are poorly greenscreened into environments, quickly breaking the immersion of the movie’s world.
The cast’s performances vary in quality, with Emmanuel standing out as the strongest. Schweighöfer is sometimes funny and believable, but sometimes feels as though he’s overacting. The rest of the crew is perfectly passable in their roles but are largely one-dimensional.
Overall, Army of Thieves is just another Netflix movie. It’s nothing special, but will work well as something to put on in the background. Army of Thieves is streaming on Netflix right now.