"I was honored that there even was a chance to do a prequel and to bring this funny character back," Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays eccentric safe-cracker extraordinaire Dieter in Netflix's Army of the Dead, tells GamesRadar+ over Zoom. "We had so much fun shooting Army of the Dead. It was a good time with Dieter.
"And so we thought about, 'Okay, cool when we bring him back, it would be great to have more time with this guy, and to focus on his origin story,'" he continues. "I was the luckiest boy in the world when Zack [Snyder] called me and said, 'There's a prequel my friend, we need to talk.' So that was cool."
That conversation eventually led to Army of Thieves, a prequel that throws Dieter into the spotlight. The story starts just as Las Vegas is being swamped by zombies, though the undead rarely feature in the film, and sees Dieter offered an escape from his regular, mundane life in Munich, Germany, when Nathalie Emmanuel's Gwendoline comes knocking. She's putting together the ultimate heist team, with their sights set on a legendary set of safes, three of which are based in Europe.
Army of Thieves – which also has Schweighöfer in the director's chair, while Snyder produces – has a lot of fun with the heist movie conventions, playfully acknowledging familiar tropes.
"When we were all sitting together, and when Zack and Shay [Hatten, writer] created this idea for the film, we thought, 'What could be interesting?' And the genre mix of heist and film and romantic aspects were super interesting," Schweighöfer says. "When the first draft arrived, we were sitting together and we talked about, 'Okay, what could be interesting, what could we do with the safes and the genre? What did we not see before?'"
Snyder likewise pushed the limits of the zombie movie with Army of the Dead. "The idea of not doing a zombie film for the prequel, that was the revolutionary part of the thing," Snyder, on the same Zoom call, adds. "We were making a prequel to [a] very specific genre movie outside of the genre that we made it in. And so we thought that 'Oh, it's important to then explore, in the same way, that genre.' And Matthias has a lot of experience and is really good with making – he's hilarious, he's a great filmmaker. He's also really careful with the details of the safe which really ties into the way we made Army [of the Dead], with the same amount of caring and carefulness, and so it really made sense also."
Army of Thieves delves deep into the lore behind the three near-impossible to crack safes in question, which are part of a quartet: the fourth is the target of Army of the Dead's own heist. Each safe's design takes inspiration from Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle operas, which itself was inspired by Norse mythology.
"[We wanted to show] the heart of the safe, what's happening, and what could be a dialogue between a safe and safe-cracker," Schweighöfer says. "We started to play around with that idea, and so we created this universe of 'Come on, let's jump into the safe, and let's make it mysterious and crazy, and maybe there is a safe who can detect a presence.' So we were totally focusing on the myth and the legend of the Ring Cycle, and we played around with that."
An expanding world
The Army of the Dead-verse is fast becoming a fully-fledged franchise on Netflix: Army of the Dead 2 is already confirmed, and next year brings with it another prequel, the animated series Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas. But you don't need to be fully invested to enjoy Army of Thieves.
"There's, I'm sure, a couple hundred million people on Netflix who haven't seen Army of the Dead – that just shows you how many people are on Netflix – that will see Army of Thieves and then go, 'Oh I should go watch Army of the Dead because this was so fun and this is so cool,'" Snyder says. "And so for them it'll be [a] completely different experience, to go, 'Oh my god, clearly this is the Dieter sequel movie I'm watching, right?' Because they'll be from a completely different perspective."
The prequel also adds to the overall mythology of the series and, if you have already watched Army of the Dead, may affect your next watch. "I'm a huge fan of this mythological understory, and what it does to the safes, [Hiroyuki Sanada's character] Bly Tanaka, all your time loop fun that you can have, there's a lot of cool enhancements that are baked in now," Snyder says. "I can't wait to make the sequel to Army of the Dead, so that we can see how then all of those things manifest."
Army of Thieves arrives to Netflix this October 29. In the meantime, check out our roundup of the best Netflix movies streaming now.