Netflix review: 'Army of the Dead' safecracker gets backstory in 'Army of Thieves'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 01 2021 03:58 PM

Matthias Schweighöfer in 'Army of Thieves.' Handout
Matthias Schweighöfer in 'Army of Thieves.' Handout

Nerdy German clerk Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert had been posting videos about his talent in safe-cracking but no one was watching. Until one day, he received a comment on his latest video inviting him to join a safecracking competition. Upon winning, he was offered to join an elite group of thieves who needed a safecracker on their next target -- to crack three legendary safes (namely the Rhinegold in Paris, the Valkyrie in Prague and the Siegfried in St. Moritz) before they were decommissioned by their new owner. 

We first saw the nervous safecracker played by German actor Matthias Schweighöfer earlier this year in Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead" about zombies overrunning Las Vegas. His name in the first movie was Ludwig Dieter, and in this prequel we see how poor flustered Sebastian gained his reputation in safecracking and how he made it to the US to join Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) and company. Since we know he will make it out of Europe in the end, there was actually no suspense how this movie will end.

The bulk of this film was how Sebastian settled into the notorious criminal gang (not really an "army" as the title states) that got him. His main contact was the elegant master thief Gwendolyn Starr (Nathalie Emmanuel), with whom Sebastian instantly developed a big crush. However, Gwendolyn seemed to be romantically involved with their jealous alpha-male leader Brad Cage (Stuart Martin). The other members of the team were ace tech expert Korina Dominguez (Ruby O. Fee) and their getaway driver Rolf (Guz Khan). 

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The names of the safes were based on the operatic works of classical musician Richard Wagner and his Ring Cycle based on Norse mythology. The Rheingold was about the greedy Neibelung dwarf Alberich who crafted powerful ring out of gold. The Valkyrie was Brunhilde, a valkyrie ordered to kill her half-brother, Sigmund. Siegfried is about its title character, the son of Sigmund who slayed a dragon and married a former valkyrie. While interesting, these tales were merely soundbytes to fill the dead air while Sebastian was cracking each safe.

To make things a little less predictable than it really was, there was an obsessed Interpol cop Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) who was hot on their heels. The close calls somehow give the capers a bit of suspense about the fates of other members of the gang, but the safecracking scenes can feel repetitive and too lengthy. 

Beforehand, we already knew Sebastian will crack all the safes and make it out safely, yet star-director Matthias Schweighöfer was able to tell his story with the essential thrill of the heist somehow still remaining intact.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."