Had it not been for a hotshot young director wanting to turn his hand at a safer project and the unlimited potential of Netflix as a big brand for new filmmakers, Army of Thieves would never have seen the light of day. Blame Zack Snyder, as usual. His creation of Army of the Dead has lit the bonfire of feature instalments that provide depth and detail to a sudden franchise where audiences will be hard-pressed to name one leading character. Zombie Elvis impersonator, sadly, does not count. Matthias Schweighöfer does not care. He directs and stars in this prequel piece that is as empty-minded and hollow as the zombies that littered the Snyder feature that started it all. A shame that they’re more or less absent, then.
Ludwig Deiter (Schweighöfer) is not a character prepped to set the world on fire. But nor were the cast of Army of the Dead, and they happened upon an entertaining but obnoxious time. Army of Thieves relies on a generic facelift of characters who will link up nice enough, but not for long enough to make much of an impact. How could they? They’re deceased, disorganised or detached from Army of the Dead. Rightly so. Synder’s grubby hands are all over this. Audiences should click rather quickly that this is a Snyder project. His writing cuts through rather clear, and it gels fairly well with the work Schweighöfer offers. That is no compliment. What happens to Army of Thieves is a mummification process. It lumbers through with little development or thought, and the meaningless prose stutters the few narrative strengths found within.
But at least there is strength apparent. While it is not the smartest or sharpest feature, Army of Thieves has some underlying consistencies to it. It suffers greatly from an unintelligibly dour ensemble but works up the courage to try new things. In this instance, a safecracker hired through a YouTube comment is given the opportunity to win big and go bigger. They do so because we know where these characters will end this journey. Some in a coffin, others yet to be put to rest. Either way, Schweighöfer finds his character and the interactions allowed to him very limited. There is only so much to be done, and the lack of change is not just inevitable, but a sad shame. Here is a character with already limited potential, mired by the structure of this feature and the details that have been plotted out before him. They are neither interesting nor fun, but this heist “comedy” is set on trying it anyway.
Uninspired and predictable, Schweighöfer must start somewhere. But he does not start here. He has experience behind the camera, and for all his swooshing antics and track cams, Army of Thieves is a snooze on par with the generalised boredom found in the previous feature. Why his camera slumps to the floor and gazes up at the nameless faces of a heist team is beyond the pale. His choices are strange, and never feel intentional or plotted well. He is crammed into an already defined narrative, an unmovable structure that, to change, would scupper the work of Snyder and Schweighöfer too. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place and has little to show for it.