Army of Thieves (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Fairly simple to crack

Netflix film “Army of the Thieves”, which was released a few weeks ago, is fairly simple to crack as a typical genre product. To be frank with you, this heist flick is so generic in many aspects that I could instantly see through its rather elementary plot machinations right from the beginning, and I only came to observe its predictably perfunctory plot progress from the distance while mildly amused from time to time during my viewing.

As many of you know, the movie is a prequel to its predecessor “Army of the Dead” (2021), and it mainly focuses on one of the more colorful supporting characters in that film. He was introduced to us as Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) at that time, but the movie shows that real name is actually Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert (Don’t ask me how to pronounce his real surname), and its early part depicts how unexciting life was for him when he worked as a mere bank employee in a plain neighborhood area of Potsdam, Germany. As a talented self-taught safecracker, he has been quite enthusiastic about a certain famous quartet of safes made by some legendary German locksmith, but nobody has yet checked a series of informative YouTube videos posted by him, and that makes him quite depressed to say the least. As a matter of fact, even the disturbing news about the recent zombie outbreak in Las Vegas does not alarm him much, though it later leads to a frightful recurring nightmare for him.

And then a little unexpected change comes into his mundane life. Somebody finally watched one of his YouTube videos and then posted a comment, and that comment leads him to an underground safecracking competition being held somewhere in Berlin. Although he is understandably quite nervous from the beginning, it does not take much time for Sebastian to get accustomed to this situation and then demonstrate his exceptional skill, and that certainly impresses the audiences including the very person who invited him to this competition via that YouTube comment.

That person in question is a young female criminal named Gwendoline Starr (Nathalie Emmanuel), and she has an offer Sebastian cannot easily refuse. She knows where three of those legendary safes are now (As some of you know, the last one was already shown to us in “Army of the Dead”), and she wants to use his particular set of skills for opening these three safes one by one before they are all retrieved and then disassembled forever. Although he naturally hesitates at first due to the considerable risk from this ambitious criminal operation, Sebastian is eventually drawn to the challenge of cracking all of these three safes, just like I cannot help but drawn to reviewing and analyzing some very challenging movies.

What follows next is an obligatory part where Gwendoline’s other accomplices are introduced to us one by one. While Korina Dominguez (Ruby O. Fee) will take care of the security systems of the places respectively containing those three safes as a very skillful computer hacker, Rolph (Guz Khan) is going to handle their vehicle for getaway as quite a skillful driver, and Brad Cage (Stuart Martin) is ready to do any physical action as your average tough guy.

As these five main characters briskly accomplish their first mission during the following part, director/co-producer Matthias Schweighöfer did a competent job of balancing this part well between humor and suspense. Although we already know how this part will end, the mood is often cheerful enough to engage us for a while, and the score by Hanz Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro, which is one of the more humorous ones from Zimmer during recent years, gladly go along with that with a few amusing musical touches besides the expected appearance of a certain famous opera piece by Richard Wagner.

Unfortunately, the screenplay by Shay Hatten, which is based on the story by Hatten and co-producer Zack Snyder, becomes rather repetitive and stale after that narrative point. When a zealous French detective enters the picture later in the story, the level of tension is accordingly increased for a while, but the movie does not surprise us much as this detective finds himself one or two steps behind Sebastian and his gangs again and again, and Hatten’s screenplay also fails to imbue enough life and personality to its main characters besides Sebastian, who come to us as nothing but mere plot elements to be moved from one narrative point to another.

Anyway, besides showing that he is a fairly good filmmaker who can handle several different action scenes as well as required, Schweighöfer demonstrates here that he is also an engaging performer to watch. Although the screenplay demands him to be neurotic too often in my humble opinion, Schweighöfer manages to hold the center before the movie eventually fizzles around the end of the story, and several other main cast members surrounding him mostly acquit themselves well even though they do not have many things to do because of their rather bland supporting roles.

On the whole, “Army of Thieves” is not as disappointing as “Army of the Dead”, but I cannot recommend it because it does not distinguish itself much compared to many better heist films out there. As far as I know, there will soon be a sequel of “Army of the Dead”, but, considering the lackluster results of “Army of the Dead” and “Army of Thieves”, I do not see why that sequel should be produced, and I really do not have much expectation on that.

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