As the scene-stealer in Zach Snyder’s Army of the Dead, it’s only right that our favorite German safecracker, Ludwig Dieter, gets his own “superhero” origin story. Blending romantic comedy with an action heist film, actor-director Matthias Schweighöfer delivers a prequel worth watching. Army of Thieves takes place before the events of Army of the Dead and gives us a first-hand look at how the unlikely Ludwig Dieter ended up on that fateful team of bandits.
Dieter is a small town bank teller who is unfulfilled in his monotonous life, so he does what most of us do — turn to the internet. One day, he is discovered through one of his nerdy safe history videos by the mysterious Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) — the co-leader of a professional group of thieves who are looking for a new safecracker. But will Deiter’s quirky and naive personality fit with his new team of badasses? Deiter proves he has the chops when he wins a crazy underground safecracking competition by taking down the reigning champ with his years of knowledge and practice (Is this really a thing?! If so, I’d love an invite to check one out in person — I promise I’ll keep it on the hush).
From there, the team goes on a wild journey to crack all three safes of the infamous Hans Wagner — a challenge that can’t be passed up — while trying to stay two steps ahead and evading the French cop, Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen), hot on their trail and out for vengeance. And of course, along the way, Dieter falls for the super badass girl who’s way out of his league.
Army of Thieves is quite the fun thrill ride, partly because it’s structured as an origin story and fairytale, with Deiter narrating his own tale. It gives the film a much softer (and way less crass) Deadpool-type vibe. While the story is interesting (if not all that unique — there’s the usual, new guy trying to fit in, the lead guy feels threatened, betrayal and tragic romance) and keeps you engaged throughout, let’s be real, Army of Thieves would not be as fun and watchable without the amazing performance — and direction — of Matthias Schweighöfer — and no I’m not just saying that because I’m a big fan of his work (if you haven’t watched Amazon’s You Are Wanted, give it a go).
Schweighöfer plays the quirky, weird, naive German to a T — it’s like the character was made for him. His character and portrayal are super relatable, and his comedic timing is spot on. And the chemistry he has with his fellow co-stars is palpable. Speaking of which, it’s great to see Nathalie Emmanuel really stepping into her own — she really owned this character and sold it. Rounding out the crew of thieves was a Nic Cage action hero wannabe “Brad” (Stuart Martin), hacker genius Korina (Ruby O. Fee), and getaway driver extraordinaire Rolph (Guz Khan). All of them played their parts well. And the even more comedic French actor, Jonathan Cohen, was great as the singularly focused, yet always being played, cop on a mission.
Not only was Army of Thieves well-acted and directed (a testament to Schweighöfer’s underrated directing skills), but it was also just an old-fashioned good time. It was stylish and cute with a great score as the cherry on top (composers Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro). The film was over the top but directed with perfection with a few epic fight scenes and a jab at the heist film genre itself thrown in for good measure. Honestly, for the most part, all of the characters in Army of the Dead were so well-developed that they could all get an origin story. With that said, Synder did well in choosing Deiter as the first prequel, for this one was started them off on a good foot with a fun and engaging story and characters to boot.