Weighed down by the backstory of Zack Snyder’s bonkers zombie movie, Matthias Schweighöfer’s film suffers from an excess of, well, everything
“Sir, why are we bothering with this when there’s a zombie apocalypse happening?” asks one sheepish detective to a roomful of Interpol agents in Army Of Thieves. “Screw the zombies!” yells the chief, along with everyone else involved in the prequel to Zack Snyder’s recent Army Of The Dead, which picks up an apparently loose backstory that has next to nothing to do with the flesh-eating monsters rampaging through Las Vegas in the latter.
A heist movie inside a rom-com inside a zombie flick inside Snyder’s ever-expanding multiverse, the cogs of Army Of Thieves spin furiously for over two hours, but never really settle anywhere interesting. There’s probably a sweet and slick little safe-cracker comedy buried somewhere beneath the bloat, but the film’s stake in Snyder’s content farm leaves it feeling overlong, underweight and slightly unnecessary.
Matthias Schweighöfer reprises his role as Dieter, the nervy German safe cracker from AOTD, in addition to directing, with Snyder stepping into a producer role. Years before he was recruited to the merc team who took on the zombie hordes in Vegas, Dieter was just a lowly Berlin bank teller with a YouTube channel about safecracking that nobody watched. Stumbling into a bizarre underground safe-cracker community, Dieter meets Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel of Game Of Thrones and Fast & Furious) and reluctantly agrees to join her gang for a string of international robberies. Crime isn’t really Dieter’s thing, but the real draw here is the chance to crack three legendary safes modelled on Wagner’s operas – the three intricate puzzle boxes that he’s spent his life obsessing over.
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Joining hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), driver Ralph (British comedian Gaz Khan, doing a lot here with not much more than a single sandwich joke) and hired heavy Brad Cage (Jamestown‘s Stuart Martin), Dieter and Gwendoline start hopping from bank to bank as their romance fizzles – and as the zombie plague in the US barely gets a look in.
Schweighöfer has a lighter touch than Snyder, swapping his producer’s maximalist heft for a knowing cartoon style, but he still suffers the same problem of trying to take on too much at once. The blueprints of a dozen other heist movies are visible behind every robbery, and even in parody the comparisons don’t stand up too well. Dieter’s legendary safes are all opened the same way (listening really carefully and twiddling the knobs), so the tension wears off long before the running time starts overrunning. Hampered by a mostly wooden cast to play off, Schweighöfer’s own comedy performance (half Richard Ayoade, half Mr Bean) falls flat, and a couple of awkward zombie dream sequences smack of focus group reshoots.
Ultimately, this film would have been much better if it had nothing to do with Army Of The Dead. But weighed down by the backstory of another film, Army Of Thieves suffers from an excess of everything. With Snyder’s anime series Army Of The Dead: Lost Vegas expected sometime soon and a full-blown AOTD sequel now in development, Schweighöfer’s well-intentioned, messily-made Wagnarian comedy romance zombie heist safecracker spin-off will soon sadly end up buried at the bottom of a very niche Netflix scroll.