Army of Thieves is a Netflix Original movie directed by, and starring Matthias Schweighöfer that acts as a prequel to Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, released earlier this year that follows Schweighöfer’s character Dieter in his pre-apocalypse days when he just gets started as a safecracker.
Dan: I cannot express just how god darn excited I was to watch this movie. I absolutely adored Matthias Schweighöfer’s performance in Army of the Dead. Ethan and I both walked away from that film saying that we wanted him to have more screen time. When they announced he was getting his own film, I about lost my mind with joy. Now we are here and let me tell you what, our wants were warranted because this movie is for me a 10/10!
Ethan: Yes to everything you just said, Dan. Army of the Dead was a delight when it released earlier this year, with Schweighöfer’s Dieter being the standout performance of the film (other than Dave Bautista’s glasses of course). So when I heard we were getting a prequel with him at the center of it, oh man was I excited. And I’m so happy with how this turned out, I may actually have enjoyed it more than Army of the Dead. So let’s dig into the why of that, shall we?
Spinning the Gears of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or How to Pull the Ultimate Heist
Dan: I will admit that I am not a huge heist film buff. I honestly cannot tell you I have seen one in full other than in passing. Something about them just isn’t my thing. But Army of Thieves does everything differently. The heist isn’t some sort of “we need to do this heist to live” or “we need to pull off one last gig” type troupe. What it does focus on is the art of the heist and art itself.
Each safe is one of the best there is, each named after a part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle which is an opera I have listened to many, many times. I was not expecting to watch a heist film where I was just so giddy about the idea behind each vault created by another person named Wagner. The film revolves so heavily around character that giving each separate heist and vault its own unique characteristic just brought out a side of the genre I have not seen before.
Ethan, on the other hand, is a huge heist film fan and loves the genre. Knowing just how well it worked for me as a non-fan, I am excited to hear your thoughts on the film as a heist.
Ethan: Okay, so, heists are great. Other than a time loop, they are my favorite sub-genre of film. As you said in a DM to me recently, I am “horny for heist movies” (thanks for that new Twitter bio btw). But how does Army of Thieves differentiate itself from other films of its ilk? Well, first, there are two ticking time bombs, the commonly seen “cop chasing the thieves” angle, but then there’s the impending doom of the apocalypse just on the horizon. We know Dieter has a date with destiny in Las Vegas soon, so we hope to see him get his chance at glory first.
Then there’s Matthias Schweighöfer’s direction itself in the heist scenes. We go into the safe’s themselves as we see Dieter almost form a connection with them while he works on cracking them. All the while, through the use of some really fun CGI, we get a look at the inside of the safe, each turn of a dial causing a ripple-tide of mechanical whirring within that all comes together like to showcase the art of safe-cracking. It’s a genuine delight to watch all these elements combine into a wonderful showcase unlike any I’ve seen in a heist film before.
From Thieving to Zombie Slaying
Ethan: Despite being billed as a prequel to Army of the Dead, this is much more of a character piece that happens to take place in the same universe as the aforementioned film. Instead of getting set up for how the zombie apocalypse began, we instead focus on the life of someone who just so happens to live in this world, and will eventually get caught up in the bigger machinations of it.
This is honestly what I wanted from Army of Thieves. Zack Snyder set up a richly detailed world in his film and it was one I’d have happily seen more of in its pre-apocalypse state. And that’s exactly what we get here. There’s a stylized, almost out-of-reality sense to the film, one in which people compete in a safe-cracking tournament. I love it.
What were your thoughts on this Dan? Did you enjoy its connections, or lack thereof, to Army of the Dead?
Dan: It is well known that I love Zack Snyder. I chomp at the bit every time he does a new film. I enjoyed Army of the Dead but it felt like it didn’t concentrate on a small enough group for my liking. They were building up too many characters who, with it being a zombie film, were destined to die. What I loved most was Dieter, which I will talk about later, but I actually really liked that it was in the same world.
Sure, it doesn’t have HUGE cinematic universe connections but it does make it known it is all happening in the same world. Having a horror element like zombies without making them the forefront allows interesting use of them as a metaphorical narrative to drive the story and show us insight into characters’ fears. It’s a very interesting use of a monster we all know too well these days. It’s nice to not have a film in the same universe rely so heavily on the other as if it is a commercial for the next film set in that universe, that other popular franchises have come to be seen as.
We Love You, Nervous Guy
Dan: This film is FILLED with wonderful, bombastic, and over-the-top characters. Up front though, we have Dieter played by Matthias Schweighöfer. Dieter was my favorite part of Army of the Dead and I left that film only wanting more. Let me tell you what, this film gives you that tenfold in the best way possible. While it could have felt like a silly spin-off if it was done another way, this feels like an origin story for a character I was dying to see again. I had no idea until I started watching that he also directed the film as well. Like okay Orson Welles, save some talent for everyone else. His performance is filled with vulnerability, odd quirks, and a brilliant character performance for someone you just want to listen to for hours. We get so much insight into his insecurities, strengths, and awkwardness. Honestly, I would self-fund 9 more movies with just this character.
But! It is a heist film and that means he needs a crew. Each crew member’s introduction is so well cut and it makes them so distinct from the jump. Now, personally, other than Dieter, Rolph was my favorite crew member who was played by Guz Khan. The reason he was my favorite may be a bit shallow but the man loves a good sandwich and he talks about that in the film. I, too, am known to be a connoisseur of the sandwich. What were your thoughts on the other members of the film, Ethan?
Ethan: So I’m in full agreement with you about MY MAN Rolph being my favorite member of the crew. Having seen him quite a few times on British TV where he’s often on comedy panel shows, I knew he had the knack for pulling off a fun supporting character with an endearing character trait (his sandwich eating) and he rises to the challenge with aplomb.
We also get Nathalie Emmanuel as Gwen, who, thanks to her role in Fast & Furious, we know can handle the action scenes, and that’s no different here. There’s a standout setpiece around the midpoint of the film where she really gets to unleash her badass side. Other than that we’ve got “action-hero-meets-unrepentant-asshole” Brad Cage (Stuart Martin), and yes, his name is as stupid as it sounds. There’s also Ruby O. Fee’s tech wiz Korina, who gets a lot more development to her character than you’d normally see in a film like this.
All in all, this is a film full of fun, interesting characters who you’ll either love or love to hate, with Dieter at the center of it all as a sweet, innocent, guy with surprisingly great hair.
Do You NEED to Watch Army of the Dead First?
Dan: Personally, if you have not seen AotD, I would watch Army of Thieves first and go directly into Army of the Dead. It will give you a much different viewing experience once you have an emotional investment in Dieter.
Army of Thieves releases globally on Friday, October 29, exclusively on Netflix.