Review: Amusing ‘Army of Thieves’ lumbers toward heist-zombie overkill

A man attempts to open a safe with multiple dials in “Army of Thieves”
Matthias Schweighöfer in the movie “Army of Thieves.”
(Stanislav Honzik / Netflix)

Earlier this year, Zack Snyder’s Netflix hit “Army of the Dead” served up a variation on the classic zombie story, mixing in elements of a heist picture. Now the prequel, “Army of Thieves,” shakes up the heist genre by mixing in a few zombies — though not enough to set the movie apart from the hundreds of similarly breezy European caper films that preceded it.

Matthias Schweighöfer both directed the film and reprises his role as Ludwig Dieter: the nerdy, shrieking master safecracker who in “Army of the Dead” is responsible for much of the broader comedy. Here, Schweighöfer and screenwriter Shay Hatten (who co-wrote the story with Snyder) try to maintain some tonal balance by again making Dieter part of a team.

“Army of Thieves” is an origin story for Dieter, introducing him as a socially awkward bank teller named Sebastian who as a hobby posts how-to videos on the internet about opening safes. It turns out he has a secret follower in Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), who leads a band of international crooks that includes hyper-macho action movie buff Brad Cage (Stuart Martin), wisecracker Rolf (Guz Khan) and whip-smart, ice-cool Korina (Ruby O. Fee).


Like its predecessor, this prequel sports a flashy style and a glib sensibility, with muscular action sequences and cartoonish eruptions of violence. This movie is meant to be fun, not dark. With its high-tech effects, its powerhouse Hans Zimmer score (co-written with Steve Mazzaro) and its over-the-top, country-hopping plot — in which Gwendoline’s crew makes plans to break into four legendary safes as the world financial system reels from the beginnings of a zombie outbreak in America — “Army of Thieves” has the punch of an old-time blockbuster.

Unfortunately, it also has the bloat. The two-hour-plus runtime teeters on the edge of overkill, given that there’s little to distinguish the various heists, aside from their locations. And the repeated references to composer Richard Wagner feel like a perfunctory attempt to add some quirky personality to the story — as do the way-too-occasional appearances of zombies, who mostly just haunt Dieter’s dreams, like a premonition.

Fans of “Army of the Dead” are likely to find a lot to like about the prequel; and fans of heist tales might find this one enjoyable enough. Schweighöfer does have a memorable screen presence, and this film is well made, as formulaic pictures so often are. But this one never fully justifies its existence, or its expense. It’s a big movie with skimpy ideas.

'Army of Thieves'

Rated: TV-MA

Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Playing: available on Netflix Oct. 29