“Army of Thieves,” a heist-by-numbers movie and prequel to Zack Snyder’s grim zombie prank “Army of the Dead,” harks back to that previous movie without improving or replicating its lighter elements, especially its chases and rescues. . tricks.
Starring and directed by “Army of the Dead” cast member Matthias Schweighöfer, “Army of Thieves” serves as an origin story for the bumbling German safe thief Ludwig Dieter (Schweighöfer) who, six years before “Army of the Dead “was simply Sebastian, a foggy bureaucrat in the style of Leo Bloom. Sebastian’s life routine changes as soon as he’s recruited by the free-spirited jewel thief Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel, “F9”) to break into four highly sophisticated bank vaults, each named after an opera from the cycle. “The ring of the nibelung” by Richard Wagner. . But what should be a spirited “Army of the Dead” side mission often feels like a retreading of numbers.
In “Army of Thieves,” Sebastian quits his unsatisfying customer service job, represented by unflattering close-ups of irate retirees, and joins Gwendoline’s team of would-be thieves. You might be wondering: Why do these guys want to break into a quartet of Wagner-themed safes? Because “this is about becoming legends,” as Gwendoline lamely boasts.
Schweighöfer’s character is also not developed enough to provide answers, as he usually gets caught doing a shy foreign boy schtick; Sebastian is almost always the type to ask Gwendoline if he’s “cheating” on him when she invites him to join her safe-breaking gang, as if the Ashton Kutcher-led prank show “Punk’d” is still on. somehow a universal cultural touchstone.
Sebastian and Gwendoline also form an awkward love ring with two of their fellow thieves: hotheaded action man Brad (Stuart Martin) and flirty security expert Korina (Ruby O. Fee). This inevitably splits Gwendoline’s team, though that only becomes a problem later on, when they must inevitably avoid capture by well-groomed Interpol agent Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) and his frustrated subordinate Beatrix (Noémie Nakai).
And yet somehow, neither Delacroix’s presence nor Brad’s competition add a great sense of urgency to the film’s small (but scenic!) International chase, which begins in Potsdam, Germany and culminates in Saint Moritz, Switzerland. Especially since there isn’t much chemistry between the four main leads, and their characters’ distinctive motifs are never illustrated beyond placeholder dialogue, like when Korina asks Sebastian, “So you want to kiss or whatever? ? ” That line might have worked in the context of a movie that was actually sexy enough to be shy; instead, that “or whatever” hanging feels like an admission of creative defeat.
Much of the action in “Army of Thieves” also feels underdeveloped, despite being carefully labeled and underlined for the benefit of distracted viewers. Sebastian’s descriptions of Wagner’s operas, and how they relate to his history, are predictably worthy of a groan, especially when he explains to a stressed-out Gwendoline that “Wagner’s work had many themes that were important to him, but all they touched love. ”
That dialogue is bad, but at least it’s not as disappointing as the subsequent dramatizations of Sebastian’s safe breaking: a bunch of expensive-but-indistinct-looking computer-animated gear and cup assemblies. Throw in some lazy chase scenes and some uncomplicated shootouts, and boom, you’ve got a spin off of a Zack Snyder movie without any of the idiosyncratic charms of a real Zack Snyder movie.
There is never a moment in “Army of Thieves” that illustrates why this movie had to happen, especially when the characters have to show what makes them unique or talk about their generic behavior. There is vague talk about how everyone in the film, both the protagonists and the antagonists, plays roles, although no one’s motives are clear enough or well developed to make them comprehensive. Sebastian suggests that Brad, who also changed his name from Alexis, might prefer to act like a “real life action hero”, in Gwendoline’s words, because he doesn’t like his real personality: “It’s sad that he couldn’t learn to love the name he was born with. “
There are also some promising but half-baked comments about the supporting roles played by the women in the film, such as when Gwendoline points out during a climactic moment, and despite Sebastian’s protests, that she did She previously explained to her teammates that she preemptively disarmed Brad. Beatrix also rolls her eyes constantly at Delacroix’s tough-guy stance, like when she asks him if he really just said “T-minus” while briefing his team of field agents.
Unfortunately, these scenes often underscore how empty and mundane “Army of Thieves” feels, right down to its best scenario: During a Snyder-y fight scene, Gwendoline disarms and bloodies a group of security guards in quick and then slow. then quick move. The brutality of this scene goes unnoticed, as does the little that happens to the boastful host Rolph (Guz Khan, Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), who is described as “the greatest bum you will ever meet”, only to then do nothing beyond an early scene. (Presumably because the heist by various parts of the group doesn’t go as planned, though that doesn’t explain why Rolph doesn’t have much of a personality either.)
But that’s so “Army of Thieves” – lots of moving parts that inexplicably move viewers toward a foregone conclusion without actually offering anything worth remembering.
“Army of Thieves” premieres October 29 on Netflix.