I’m not sure who exactly decided we needed an origin story for Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), the nervy safe cracker who was part of the ensemble behind Dave Bautista in Zack Snyder’s zombie-heist gorefest Army of the Dead, but we got one anyway. And here’s the thing: it’s kind of… charming? Eschewing the nihilistic violence and spectacle of its forerunner, Army of Thieves is a brisk, frequently goofy riff on the old heist movie formula. That it takes place in a world about to be plunged into a zombie apocalypse is so incidental as to be almost surplus to requirements.
When we meet Ludwig he’s not even Ludwig—that’s an alias he adopts later. He’s Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, a lonely Potsdam bank clerk with a jones for safecracking and lock-picking. He even has a YouTube channel devoted to the subject, although it only has one viewer. But that one viewer is Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel, who has action franchise history in The Fast and the Furious), an international jewel thief with need of a safe cracker.
After covertly auditioning Sebastian by way of an underground safe cracking competition that feels like a cross between the IT Crowd episode “The Final Countdown” and the insane Chinese rock-paper-scissors movie Animal World, he’s recruited into her crew, which includes getaway driver Rolf (Guz Khan of Man Like Moheeb), hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), and muscle Brad Cage (Stuart Martin). This happy pseudo-family of criminals have a big job in mind: cracking and robbing three safes built by a legendary locksmith and named after the first three operas in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Remember in Army of the Dead, when Ludwig got really excited that the safe in Las Vegas was the Götterdämmerung? This is why—it’s the fourth and final safe.