Finally watched the prequel to Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, Army of Thieves. Right off the bat, I’ll say it is a fine movie. There is nothing particularly great or terrible about it. The cast is talented and plays their parts well. They all also seem to have a natural chemistry and presence with each other. The music works for most of the film. The cinematography looks excellent with well done special effects added. On the other hand, the runtime is too long with several scenes and moments that could have easily been edited out. The dialogue is very much unnatural and exposition heavy with basically stating out the intended themes. Pacing, plot, and story leave a lot to be desired, in particular the resolution and set up for future films in the franchise. Overall, if you are a fan of Snyder’s work, you will probably like this film. If you are not, this one will most definitely not be to your tastes. And if, somehow, you are on the fence concerning Snyder’s work, this one is on the better side, but still most likely not change many minds about his skill.
Now, that that is out of the way, let’s do a more thorough deep dive into the film with the good, the bad, and the just plain ridiculous. As always, SPOILERS ahead.
It’s pretty much impossible at this point to discuss any Snyder project and not at least mention the whole internet movement that cemented around Snyder, and specifically the debacle around WB Media and the Justice League films. While it would be wonderful to think this was a simple act of devoted fans rallying behind a creative against business practices and efforts, the reality is far from that. In actuality, the whole Snyderverse movement was more a coalition of opposing social movements and beliefs, financial interests and maneuvers, and efforts of various sides to claim some sort of “win” from a series of circumstances that ultimately only really benefitted a group of, mostly, rich, white men.
WB/HBO Max got the social media engagement and (most likely) temporary numbers boost to their streaming service for the financial quarter or enough to seem worth a merger/buyout. Netflix got an exclusive contract with a director/producer for (what they hope) will be more long term intellectual property that can be used across its platform and mostly positive social media engagement and attention with that announcement. Snyder got to keep a “promise” to his fans giving him credibility and clout which also led to a mult-million dollar contract with the largest streaming platform currently in existence that basically gave him carte blanche as far as developing projects. Honestly, everyone involved made the intelligent business play that benefitted them the most. I cannot really fault anyone in this scenario for what they accomplished. Genuinely, kudos to all of them. (Though, seriously fuck Warner Media for their seemingly ever growing list of shit practices and productions. They can go to hell.)
To be fair, the whole Snyderverse group appears to have lost steam with the release of the much lauded SnyderCut of Justice League film. The original intent was accomplished, and the few steadfast are increasingly becoming irrelevant as more DC projects are announced and released. Add the aspect of how similar the talking points of the group became to anti-diversity, hate groups in other popular media and the overlap of the self proclaimed leaders of said groups, and the whole movement seems to be on its last legs (one can only hope). Though the lack of more vocal support may have also led to the lack of heavy promotion for this film compared to the original last year. Or just Netflix figuring out its system and making a cost/benefit decision.
Suppose we’ll see with how Snyder’s other projects will be promoted and do on the streaming service. As well, how these upcoming films and series will fare with the level of involvement Zack Snyder will actually have since he is moving more into a producer role with minimal involvement ala Del Toro, Bay, Spielberg, and other such larger directors/producers. Though, like those, Snyder’s influence can definitely be felt and seen throughout this movie.
On to the story of the film: it is a pretty standard heist movie which could have been great, or at least worked to the film’s advantage, but the film tried to be more than just a simple heist film. The actual plot is essentially a paint by numbers heist story we have seen before. Hell, the movie references several such prior films and classic tropes in dialogue, action, and visuals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, there is a reason that the genre is popular still and used as a plot device in several other films. If this movie just gave us a rag tag team of misfits with unique skills that were trying to become legendary thieves, it would have been a very entertaining ‘popcorn’ flick. All the necessary ingredients are present: a great cast with natural, believable chemistry, good visuals and set pieces, excellent music (with Hans Zimmer what more could you expect), well done effects, and enough backstory to give these characters motivation as long as you ignore the other film and the attempts at larger, loftier themes.
Which is where this film, like most of Zack Snyder’s work, kind of loses me. Beneath the heist story is an underlying narrative of love, struggle, perseverance, and love that is tied to the “story” of the safes created by Hans Wagner based on Norse mythology and Wagner’s own personal turmoil and losses. Again, this could have been an interesting subplot if it wasn’t so telegraphed and directly stated to the audience through Dieter, and if this was a standalone movie and not a prequel setup for Army of the Dead. After all, Dieter falls in love with Gwendoline (and really who could blame him), and she returns his affections by the end of the film even going so far as to sacrifice herself for his freedom, so why does he essentially abandon their joint mission of taking on the final safe in Army? Or sacrifice himself for some random soldier he has known for a few days when the, supposed, love of his life and friends/crew are alive and well and waiting for him? Hell, how does the crew in Army of the Dead even know about Dieter since he has not actual criminal record, alias, or reputation since, theoretically, he didn’t get the money from the heists and credit would have gone to the arrested crew back in Europe? So, why does Maria know about him or that he would even have the skills to pull off the job?
Of course, virtually any film begins to fall apart once you pull at the seams, but if the story invites such discussion with grand philosophical debates and themes, then that is kind of on the film to actually have the means to support such dissection. Ultimately, the original crew are all arrested after completing the final heist in Europe with Dieter escaping to the United States to begin the events of Army of the Dead. I strongly suspect we will see most, if not all, of these characters once more at some point in the extended Army universe though in what fashion or medium is left to be seen.
Frankly, Snyder and the team he has compiled are excellent at creating visually interesting, entertaining, action films. If he simply focused on delivering those, I genuinely believe both fans and critics would be pleased and give him standard praise for blockbuster action films. It’s when there are grandiose themes and concepts that are never fully developed or realized that there are issues and complications.
And I think that will probably be the practice and legacy of Snyder: making films and series that are sufficiently interesting to get eyes but have just enough plot and story issues and teasers to justify another project and so on and so forth before moving on to something else. It seems to working for him so far.