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Army of Thieves
Directed by Matthias Schweighofer
Written by Shay Hatten, based on characters created by Zack Snyder
Starring Matthias Schweighofer, Nathalie Emmanuel and Stuart Martin
Classification R; 127 minutes
Available to stream on Netflix starting Oct. 29
“It’s kinda cool, it almost feels like we’re in a spy movie!” So exclaims a police officer midway through the new Netflix film Army of Thieves. Close, my dude, but so very far: This is less of a real-deal spy movie and more of a real-long TV pilot. If you squint hard and focus most of your mental energy on folding your laundry, yeah, Army of Thieves is kinda cool. But it’s also kinda bland, kinda formulaic and kinda sad. If this is the sort of instantly franchisable content that the streaming giant thinks its audiences want or need, then we’re truly doomed.
Army of Thieves is, technically, a prequel to Netflix’s zombie thriller/heist flick Army of the Dead, even though it was shot a whole six months before that first Zack Snyder movie premiered this past May, betraying an absurd amount of producer confidence. I’m unsure how Snyder and his producing partner/wife Deborah Snyder convinced Netflix executives that their original undead film was worthy of its very own cinematic universe before audiences got a single taste of Army of the Dead’s braaaaaaains.
But whatever, it’s 2021 and the movie business is stranger than ever, so here, take this ho-hum movie focusing on eccentric German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), the allegedly beloved breakout character from Army of the Dead. (Personally, the only parts of that movie I recall fondly are the excellent opening sequence and the zombie tiger. Where is the zombie tiger spinoff, Snyders???)
In Dieter’s European-based adventure, set three years before the events of Army of the Dead, zombies have just begun to overrun Las Vegas. But mostly, the undead are relegated in this film to brief news clips and the subject of Dieter’s frequent nightmares. Yes: This is a zombie-movie prequel featuring precious few zombies. Instead, Netflix, the Snyders and Schweighofer (who directs here, too) think that their world is compelling enough to sustain a no-frills version of what they already made. Good for them. Bad for us.
Bored by his day job, Dieter is recruited by a mysterious criminal organization (led by regular Fast and Furious-verse co-star Nathalie Emmanuel) to pull off a series of three increasingly complex robberies. There are brief nods to Army of the Dead’s chief villain, the Japanese casino magnate Tanaka, and a whole lot of time devoted to Zack Snyder’s long-held obsession with Norse mythology (Dieter must break into three safes, named Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and Siegfried; Gotterdammerung pops up in Army of the Dead).
Mostly, though, this is an uninspired exercise in catching Netflix subscribers who’ve already burned through Army of the Dead, binged all of Money Heist, and cannot find the Ocean’s Eleven films. And Emmanuel’s presence only serves to remind audiences that this whole international-crew-pulling-off-one-impossible-job shtick was perfected by Fast Five.
If you’re a Dieter superfan (I can only assume that there are at least a dozen of you out there) or a Snyder devotee (my inbox confirms that there are a lot of you out there; oh God … so many), then you might wring the teeniest, tiniest pleasure out of Army of Thieves. Everyone else, stay safe out there.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.