How many times have we had a prequel to a movie come out in the same year as the original movie? I can’t think of any examples of this happening before, but the Netflix film Army of Thieves is a prequel to the Dave Bautista starring vehicle Army of the Dead from earlier this year.
It is also intriguing that the prequel to a movie about the Zombie Apocalypse does not feature zombies in it. Sure, there are a few references to the outbreak of the virus happening in America, and there are a dream sequence or two, but the main story is not about zombies. It is about a theft. Even more than just a theft, it is about a mythological journey.
In Army of the Dead, we met safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), recruited by Dave Bautista to crack an uncrackable safe, the Götterdämmerung. Little did Bautista know, but the Götterdämmerung was the White Whale at the end of the story for Ludwig Dieter.
In Army of Thieves, we meet loser Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, the real name of Ludwig Dieter. Sebastian was working a nowhere job, going through a humdrum life and making YouTube videos about the world of safes and safecracking that literally no one was watching. When one of his videos finally received a view and a comment, Sebastian was excited. When the comment invited him to a mysterious location, he could not resist.
The location turned out to be a safecracking contest that he had been entered in without his knowledge. Though surprised and uncertain about the whole situation, Sebastian won the contest, impressing everyone in attendance.
We then meet Gwendolyn Starr (Nathalie Emmanuel), who had set Sebastian up to enter the contest to see how good his safecracking skills actually were. She was looking to recruit a new safecracker for her team in order to go and commit three crimes, all involving cracking the legendary safes designed by Hans Wagner, based on Richard Wagner’s legendary set of four operas, collectively called the Ring Cycle. These were all inspired by Norse mythology.
The rest of Gwen’s team included hacker extraordinaire Korina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver Rolph (Guz Khan) and ‘action hero’ Brad Cage (Stuart Martin).
The film immediately set the tone of the movie as we are introduced to Sebastian and see his miserable life and how pathetic he is. There are some really funny moments throughout Army of Thieves that work extremely well. Matthias Schweighöfer, who was also this film’s director, was one of the standouts from Army of the Dead, one of the quirkiest and most likable characters in that zombie film, and basing a prequel around him was a stroke of genius. I promptly connected with this character and could relate to his desires to strive for more than what he had. He was not a criminal at first, but the call of the challenge was too much for him to ignore. He was the antithesis of a heroic protagonist, but that only made him more relatable.
The film does a great job of playing with the tropes of a heist movie too. One perfect example was how they called out the old trick in the movies when the crew of a heist would talk their way through the crime and there would be a montage of what they were doing. Typically, this would then be complicated when they actually runt he plan. Here, however, when they were done talking it through, we realize that the plan was already done and their talking it through was actually them committing the robbery.
There were several moments like this in Army of Thieves. The dialogue was very clever as it constantly alluded to the movies and to the future in Army of the Dead. Sebastian kept having nightmares about zombies, the only place where the monsters would make an appearance in Army of Thieves.
I’m not sure how I feel about the very end of the film. I might have liked more of an open-ended conclusion instead of what we got, which I cannot go into details on without spoiling it. It just felt a little out of character for some of the participants.
I really enjoyed this movie. I would go as far as to say that I enjoyed this movie more than I enjoyed the Army of the Dead, which was something that I had not expected. Who knew what we needed was a film about the backstory of a secondary character from a zombie movie, without any zombie?