Netflix’s ‘Army of Thieves’: what is the ‘Army of the Dead’ prequel all about?

The film follows safe-cracker Ludwig Dieter and his journey into Dave Bautista’s gang

Netflix’s Army of the Dead was a huge hit when it was released in May. According to the streaming platform, more than 72 million accounts tuned in, in the first month of its release, to watch Dave Bautista lead a ragtag bunch of handily different skill-set-possessing folk into Las Vegas to collect the contents of a safe belonging to shady billionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada).

One of the gang was Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), safe-cracker extraordinaire who smart-mouths and knee-trembles his way through the mission in a way that leads the audience to believe he won’t make it to the end. And what do you know? Just as he opens Tanaka’s safe, the zombies appear and he sacrifices himself to get his teammate Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) into the vault safely.

But that doesn’t mean Ludwig is gone. Thanks to Marvel’s Black Widow, who famously sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame only to be resurrected for her long-overdue prequel, cinematically dying in Hollywood is no longer the disadvantage it once was.

What is ‘Army of Thieves’ about?

Going with the "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" approach, Army of Thieves once more assembles a ragtag bunch of different skillset-possessing folk with the goal of breaking into three safes, each belonging to the villainous Tanaka.

“So, is it like in a movie film where each one of us has a different skill set and it’s only working together we can pull that which needs the pulling off?” an excited and wide-eyed Ludwig asks the super-cool Gwendoline (Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel) who recruits him by promising a “life less ordinary”.

“Yes, it’s exactly like that,” she tells him, with the kind of knowing, arched eyebrow look that leaves the audience in no doubt whatsoever that a formulaic, though fun, heist film is on the way.

Are there any zombies in ‘Army of Thieves’?

This is a zombie film prequel with no zombies in it. The action takes place six years before Army of the Dead, and tells the tale of Ludwig’s journey from taking part in safe-cracking contests in warehouses to Bautista’s gang. There is TV news footage of what’s going on in Vegas as the zombies emerge and start to take over. But Sin City is not yet the bricked-in prison it became in the first film, and this isn’t another race against the undead.

Why is Dieter Ludwig getting his own prequel?

While the zombies were the main draw when it came to watching Army of the Dead, it cannot be forgotten that the reason the gang went into Vegas in the first place was to crack a safe. In Army of Thieves, the safes are the central part of the story, a plot narrative that allows the two films to connect.

Early in his career, Ludwig posts a video to YouTube about four legendary safes around the world, all of which belong to Tanaka and which are designed around the theme of composer Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle. The Rheingold, the Valkyrie and the Siegfried are all on the gang’s list of safes to strike. And fans of both zombies and opera will recall that the safe in Vegas that Ludwig will later go after was called the Gotterdammerung – which completes the four.

Should I watch ‘Army of Thieves’?

If you keep an eye on the credits, you’ll notice Army of Thieves was directed by none other than Ludwig himself, Matthias Schweighofer, which means plenty of love and effort has been poured into this prequel passion project.

Plus, there’s the always watchable Nathalie Emmanuel as the gang’s charismatic leader. There’s also Korina (Ruby O Fee) the ubiquitously cool master hacker, Rolph (Guz Khan) the wise-cracking getaway driver and the muscled eye candy or “real life action hero”, Brad Cage (Stuart Martin).

But for anyone looking for a traditional sequel to Army of the Dead, and who wants to know what happened to Vanderohe on his plane out of Vegas with all the money, fear not. A Zack Snyder-directed sequel, Planet of the Dead, is in the works. There’s also an animated series, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas, coming to Netflix.

And, if Ludwig’s story gets the audience love Army of the Dead received, there’ll no doubt be many more prequels and sequels to come.

Updated: November 1st 2021, 9:22 AM