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A young man and young woman stand in front of a huge safe that they're trying to crack.

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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

In the future, people will know him by the nom de guerre

of Ludwig Dieter. But these days he’s called Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert. That’s a mouthful, for sure. Certainly tougher to remember than Bond, James Bond. So, Sebastian generally answers to Hey you!

Of course, Sebastian wouldn’t mind having some Bondian adventures every once and awhile. There are rumors of some sort of plague going on in America (possibly involving … zombies?) on the other side of the globe. But at this point in Sebastian’s existence, he leads a pretty boring life. He’s a low-level bureaucrat by day and spends his nights recording generally unwatched YouTube videoes about his passion for safecracking.

He’s never actually cracked a safe, mind you. But ever since boyhood, he’s been learning about safe-building lore and practicing his skills: breaking open all manner of combination locks. He can finesse combination spindles, drive cams and tumblers with the same gentle love that a mother uses when caring for her child. So, he’s every bit the super safecracker that he calls himself on his YouTube page … in theory anyway.

Then one day, he gets a chance to prove it.

First of all, he notices that someone watched his most recent vlog about four safes constructed in the 19th century, secured boxes named after the four operas in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. And that sort of stuff generally doesn’t draw any views at all. So having an actual viewer is kinda exciting.

On top of that, this mysterious online individual invites Sebastian to participate in nothing less than a local underground safecracking competition. It’s all so secretive and hush-hush that Sebastian almost can’t believe it. So he dons his most Bond-like khaki pants, sweater vest and backpack and ventures forth.

Outside.

In the dark.

It’s so exciting!

By the time the night is finished, Sebastian has not only won the competition, but he’s met a beautiful young pickpocket named Gwendoline. And she invites him to join her team, her army of thieves.

OK, it’s really more the size of a small scout troop—including Gwendoline, a hacker named Korina, a driver named Rolph and a muscle guy named Brad—but you get the idea. And it takes little more than a heartbeat for Sebastian to join in once he learns that they’re hoping to crack the legendary Ring-cycle safes. It’s an almost mythical goal involving almost mythical devices.

And it will all be up to him to solve.

One day, you’ll know him as Ludwig Dieter. But at this moment you can think of him as a young dreamer who took on the nearly impossible.

And you can call him Schlencht-Wöhnert. Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert.

Positive Elements

Even though Gwendoline initially invites Sebastian into the team with the intention of bailing on him once they get what they want, her attitude shifts with time. She starts to see his good nature and his earnest openness about the team and the things that he loves. And she begins to care for him.

In fact, Gwendoline starts to realize that the mystery of the Wagner safes is more important to her than the money held in the safes themselves. (The theft of which, obviously, isn’t a positive thing at all even though the movie romanticizes the characters plotting to do just that.) And when one of the team treats Sebastian badly and puts him in danger, she breaks up the team to stand by her friend.

Gradually, the seemingly mismatched pair grows even closer

and both become willing to give up their freedom for the other.

Spiritual Elements

The Ring cycle—the epic operas that were used as a foundational inspiration for the specially crafted safes—is based on Norse mythology and deals with the god Odin and his children. Sebastian takes time to spell out each of those tales of love and betrayal as part of breaking the puzzle of each safe.

Sexual Content

Both Gwendoline and Korina wear formfitting and sometimes a bit revealing outfits (i.e., bare midriff and cleavage). Korina, in particular, wears tight tops that emphasize her curves. Korina also offers to make out with Sebastian during some downtime when she has nothing better to do. But Sebastian—because of his attraction to Gwen—doesn’t take her up on the offer.

Gwendoline and Brad are thought of as a couple by the team. We see them touching and talking closely at times. But in time, she draws back from the brutish Brad and finds herself drawn to the nerdy-but-gentle Sebastian. They kiss once.

Violent Content

As Sebastian tells us about the Ring-cycle safes, he tells us about Hans Wagner, the man who crafted the intricately detailed devices. We’re told he spent many years of his life devising and building the four wonders and then committed suicide by locking himself in a fifth safe that no one could open. They then dropped the safe and his body in the ocean.

Remember that I mentioned how there were reports of a plague in America? Well, it’s actually the beginning of a zombie outbreak, and this story serves (among other things) as a prequel to it. That said, we only see the story’s rotting zombies once: in Sebastian’s dream. The shambling undead move at him with open sores on their skin and blood on their snarling lips. We don’t, however, see them attack anyone, though we hear about such attacks in distant TV reports.

During the heists, Gwendoline and Sebastian encounter some hostile guards who attack them with batons and guns. In those situations, Gwendoline takes the lead, disarming and pummeling the men with their own weapons and hitting them with punches and kicks to the body and face. Most end up bloodied and unconscious. Brad pounds on several guards as well. After punching one older man in the face, he’s shot in the shoulder and tumbles out a window. He ends up with a bloody wound.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 45 f-words and 25 s-words join a handful of uses each of “d–n,” “h—” and “a–hole.” There are also about a dozen total misuses of God’s and Jesus’ names (two of those combining “god” and “d–n”). Someone flips a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A guard on duty hides a beer. And Gwendoline’s team drinks some sort of alcoholic beverages while waiting on their first heist.

A half-dozen people are knocked unconscious by drugged darts and Gwen knocks out several guards with a cloth doused with chloroform.

After being shot, Brad tends to pop pain pills like candy.

Other Negative Elements

Sebastian narrates a bit of Gwendoline’s checkered past, which includes stealing her first watch at 6, her first car at 16 and making Interpol’s list of “red notice” criminals by 17.

Sebastian is convinced that breaking the law with Gwendoline’s team is the only chance he’d have to “live a life less ordinary.” And that’s exactly how it plays out.

Conclusion

If you were nonchalantly living your life in Europe while brain-eaters were rumbling around in that place where all zombie plagues begin (America, of course!), what would you be doing? Well, if you’re a criminal type, you might use that major news-cycle distraction as a chance to pull off a series of international thefts.

At least, that’s what Army of Thieves, the Netflix-streaming prequel to this year’s Army of the Dead, would glibly have you believe. And that story concept works, for the most part.

In fact, the result is fairly surprising. And that’s not because it offers up anything groundbreaking, but because Army of Thieves is a gruesome zombie pic prequel that doesn’t really have any gruesome zombies. There are newscasts in the background about all those shambling, living-dead happenings. But this flick steers clear of brain-gnashing, instead delivering a relatively light-hearted heist tale with a romantic-comedy twist.

Army of Thieves isn’t all clean and sparkling like your mom’s kitchen, however. There’s still a foul banquet of nasty language dripping on the floor here. And you’re supposed to root for the baddies (at least, the nice ones) to win, if you buy into the film’s logic at all. (We also hear hopes that America might just crawl off somewhere and die.)

But hey, at least there’s no spurting arteries and close-ups of cranial-chomping creepers. So there’s that.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.