After premiering on Netflix in May, Zack Snyder’s zombie heist movie “Army of the Dead” was quickly reanimated for the prequel treatment. Just five months later, “Army of Thieves,” which has perhaps the fastest turnaround ever for a follow-up film, expands the world by exploring the backstory of quirky safecracker Ludwig Dieter, played by actor and director Matthias Schweighöfer.
“Army of the Dead” smashed together the zombie, action and heist genres to huge success; Netflix reported a substantial 75 million member households watched the film in its first 28 days. Starring Schweighöfer, Dave Bautista, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro and more, the ensemble cast is hired by a mysterious billionaire named Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to break into a Las Vegas casino and rob a vault in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
Unsurprisingly, many of the characters met their zombie-bitten doom by the time the credits rolled. Schweighöfer’s Dieter seemingly dies offscreen, sacrificing himself to the alpha zombie Zeus to buy time for Hardwick’s character to escape into the fabled Gõtterdämmerung vault. However, as the prequel “Army of Thieves” proves, it’s possible for the characters to live on in the franchise, and Snyder teases that Dieter could very well be alive for his planned threequel, tentatively titled “Planet of the Dead.”
“Army of Thieves” ditches most of the zombies for a more straightforward heist and introduces a new cast of characters, including Gwendoline, Dieter’s love interest played by Nathalie Emmanuel. The “Thieves” characters, assuming they’re still alive in the zombie-infested world, could pop up in a future installment, and Snyder and Schweighöfer both alluded to Dieter and Gwendoline happily reuniting in the future.
Speaking with Variety, Snyder also reveals which other character from “Army of the Dead” he’d want to get a prequel and what sci-fi elements, from time loops to portals to other realms, fans may see in the cinematic universe.
Were these movies being planned simultaneously? Was it always the plan to explore Dieter’s backstory in a prequel?
Zack Snyder: That’s exactly what it was. Part of it was the desire to explore the mythological roots of the different safes and understand what the Gõtterdämmerung was all about, and also because Dieter is so interesting and to find out why he loves safes. That was the origin of it. There are a lot of fun Easter eggs, and we had a great time planting the seeds of the “Army” universe in that movie.
What was it like playing Dieter first in “Army of the Dead” and then fleshing him out more in “Army of Thieves”?
Matthias Schweighöfer: Zack and I talked about how the prequel feels a subtext arc for “Army of the Dead” because you understand what’s with the safes, who is Bly Tanaka. It helps the whole universe have these cool roots. Now with Dieter, you know the whole story of this guy. You know what it means when Scott [played by Bautista] says, “This is the most important member of the team.” The prequel was a great idea because it helps “Army of the Dead” grow and it has all these fantastic layers.
How did you put your own stamp on “Army of Thieves” while taking over what Zack started on “Army of the Dead”?
MS: When we did “Army of the Dead,” I went to Zack like every day and I had these crazy ideas. Zack was sometimes like, “It’s great, I love that idea,” and others it was just like “No.” [Laughs] I love that here I was allowed to work with Zack and the character. On first sight, the film is about love and passion, and to have that as a prequel to “Army of the Dead,” which has this great style and a lot of zombies, you have a guy who comes from the other side and he’s searching for Gwendoline. It was an invitation for my character and I said, “It’s a big playground, so let’s play.”
Are there other characters whose backstories you’d want to explore?
ZS: I think Tig’s character, of course, could be really fun to find out how she went from doing dry, narrations of her helicopter tours at the Grand Canyon to piloting a zombie rescue mission. That would be interesting.
“Flight of the Dead” could work as a title for that spinoff.
ZS: It really does. I’d back “Flight of the Dead,” that’s pretty good.
Does Dieter actually die offscreen in “Army of the Dead?” Is there a chance he could come back?
ZS: We were just talking about the three potential Dieter scenarios. One is he got murdered by Zeus and is laying dead in a hallway. The second is he got bitten by Zeus and is a scary alpha zombie running around somewhere in the Nevada desert. And the third is that he somehow negotiated, fought or something happened that Zeus was distracted and so he was not killed by Zeus. According to the time loop subtext of the movie, all three realities are possible. The one other clue is that “Army of the Dead,” as a genre, is obedient to genre tropes. The genre trope of not seeing a character die on screen is very much alive and well in the “Army of the Dead” universe. I would say by its cinematic design, it begs the question, whether or not he’s alive or dead.
Matthias, which scenario would you like to see?
MS: I thought about that, how can I manage Dieter’s screams if he were a zombie? But, of course, I love this character and we will see what will happen. There’s a girl waiting for this guy. I got a lot of direct messages this weekend, saying “What was the ending of the film? No! What’s with the girl?” It was nice to see that people felt really emotional for Dieter and his fate. I’m excited by what’s going on in Zack’s and [co-writer] Shay Hatten’s heads in the next weeks. They will let me know, I know that.
What other genres would you want to explore in this universe?
ZS: Shay and I have been talking about the straight sequel to “Army of the Dead” being possibly a sci-fi actioner with horror elements. So that’s a fun genre, probably with a heist at its center.
What can you tease about “Planet of the Dead” for people who are hoping to see more from this world?
ZS: First of all, I know exactly what I’d want to see in the sequel. We’re doing the animated series, which will come out next year. The animated series very much delves deeply into the “why” of the zombie apocalypse and where the zombies come from exactly. I think the time loops, portals, doorways to other realms, things of that nature, are very much in play. So all of those clues that Dieter gives us are very much part of how we continue to spiral out the “Army of the Dead” universe.
Where do you see the “Army of the Dead” universe going in the future?
ZS: I love the genre aspect. It’s rare, and maybe unprecedented, that there’s a cinematic universe where the cinematic part of it is front and center. The deconstruction of different genres is actually part of the way. It’s very self-aware. I think that we as an audience and as filmmakers are ready and educated. We’re standing by to have fun with the genres we love and deconstruct them, almost from a self-aware cinematic angle, which makes this universe of movies really interesting. It’s movies for people who love movies, without letting anyone off the hook as far as the drama and suspense. And I promise there will be zombies.