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Army of Thieves (2021): A Solid if Predictable Prequel

After the success of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead (2021) back in May, it was quickly announced that a franchise would be on the way. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait very long for our first look at how it would play out. About 5 months later, we got a prequel/spin-off about how the scene-stealing safe cracker, Ludwig Dieter, came to be before opening a $200 million safe in a zombie infested Las Vegas.

Ludwig Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer) is a lonely bank teller with a serious expertise in safe cracking. He even has his own YouTube channel on the subject, which unfortunately, has no following. At work one day, he is invited to a safe cracking competition to show off his skills which he wins. The next day, he’s approached by Gwendoline (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) with an offer to pull off 3 bank heists. These heists revolve around a trio of mythic safes called The Ring Cycle. With Interpol hot on the crew’s tail, it’s a race against time to beat these “uncrackable” safes before they are decommissioned.

So, apparently this was a meta comedy about heist movies while being a precursor to Army of the Dead (2021). Don’t get me wrong, they set it up rather well; unfortunately they fall flat on the meta execution, with most of the meta jokes coming off as eye rolling rather than insightful. In fact, it plays into the cliches of heist films without even trying to dissect them. I’m not mad that the filmmakers tried their hand at a meta heist movie, but this film probably would have been better without any of the self-referential jokes.

That’s not to say this film doesn’t have it’s fair share of good comedy. We fell in love with Ludwig in the first film because of his dry sense of humor and child-like innocence. These traits are put to proper use in Army of Thieves (2021), doubling down on these character traits to make Ludwig even more endearing. He even shares good chemistry with Nathalie Emmanuel’s Gwendoline, even if their love story feels a bit rushed. They even find time to share backstories with some clunky and unnecessary voiceovers.

The rest of the cast is solid and play into their character archetypes well, even if I would’ve loved to see more of some characters; looking at you Korina (played by Ruby O. Fee). We got Brad Cage (played by Stuart Martin) being as inherently unlikable as possible, although this does take away from the twist of him betraying Ludwig after the second heist is complete and him just being an all around abusive asshole. He acts like he is getting a temper tantrum every time things don’t go his way, which gets annoying after awhile. Brad Cage wasn’t nearly as annoying as Interpol agent Delacroix (played by Jonathan Cohen), as he just acts like he should be in a mental institution pretty much every time he comes on screen. We get it dude, you don’t like these guys because they shot you in the butt. Big whoop!

The best part of this film is obviously the safe cracking. They play out like a dance of sorts, stepping on someone’s toe, getting slapped in the face; or in this case, locked out of a vault. The best safe was arguably the “Valkyrie” safe, as the stakes of the opening rise quickly once Ludwig accidentally screws up. Playing up the suspense in this scene, with Cage upstairs stalling the guards by actually robbing the bank lobby. With the clock ticking faster, it’s almost as if Ludwig is more in his element than ever by ramping up the pressure. He ultimately succeeds as we still had a third safe to crack.

Army of Thieves (2021) hits all the right notes in terms of a good heist film, with intense safe cracking scenes and some likable leads. But the quality is diminished with underwhelming meta comedy and some truly annoying characters. But it does tie into Army of the Dead (2021), making that safe cracking more emotional and satisfying on repeated viewings. Matthias Schweighöfer is as charismatic as he was in the previous film along with a great co-lead like Nathalie Emmanuel. Although the jokes miss more than they hit and the story is cliche, there is still a lot of heart to make this a rewatchable film. I can’t wait to see what else Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead franchise will bring to the table!

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