In Julius Avery’s OVERLORD, a rag tag team of troops is sent into France to destroy a radio tower that has been built over a church during the D-Day Invasion. When they get there, they discover this is no ordinary mission and the normal rules that apply to biology are apparently being twisted by the findings of a certain Nazi Scientist and his men. What follows is a stylized romp through the human condition, set through the eyes of a protagonist who seems to have been given modern sensibilities in this World War 2 noir piece. While delivering on over the top practical effects and gore, OVERLORD goes ham in its later acts, disguising itself as a brash war movie in its early themes. This dynamic largely works for this film and here we will examine what this reviewer found to work or what goes on to drag down the story narrative.
First, the cast is largely brilliant but clichéd. We have our lead protagonist played by Jovan Adepo (notable from HBO’s The Leftovers) who is a soldier who has been sent on this mission that is disillusioned with his role in the war. He’s given modern sensibilities and his story intertwines into the mission they all have been assigned. The real standout here is Wyatt Russell (former hockey player and son of Kurt Russell), whom is very much channeling his father’s charisma. Russell plays a no-nonsense seen it all Marine whom is leading the mission, and at times you feel as if you are watching a reincarnation of Snake Plissken or some variant of Jack Burton, quipping and ravaging the Nazi forces into submission. He’s wonderful fun, particularly in the later acts, and seems to be a bit more a foil to our lead who is much less gung-ho. This dynamic seems to play off itself with largely entertaining results.
The tone of this film is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes it feels like a B movie, sometimes it’s a gritty war docudrama, and at other times I feel like I am watching a Fulci zombie flick. To further contrast this, you can tell a lot of time was taken into the set and sound design, often looking like some of the best films of our modern times. The directors must have known all these angles were a bit conflicting but had the cast play it straight at any rate. The result is a strange take on modern perspectives in a period-piece, and I’d say it only adds to the eccentricity of the flick. Some people may find fault in this and that’s very understandable, because at some point suspension of disbelief will force you to decide one way or another, as I noticed several historical inaccuracies abounding in set design and screen.
Overlord shines best however, when over-the-top Nazi experiments and zombies steal the show, often harkening to more recent Call of Duty or Wolfenstein media, with completely insane blood spray and giblet splatter that should satisfy any gore hound looking for a charnel pit. You can tell the director and screenwriter went with a no holds-barred approach here, sparing no grisly detail and thrusting the audience from a heavy burden war movie into a macabre supernatural universe with Thousand-Year Nazi soldiers. The plot is very formulaic at times, often seeming to have the structure of modern video games, with an introduction, a character exposition arc and a final battle with the big boss. While the second act really proceeds to drag the film down with too much stagnation, the completely bonkers third act really polishes the film finale with a sense of spectacle, leaving audiences wanting more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case, as this film was once attached to the Cloverfield Universe (this was completely removed), but the story leaves some things a bit open and I myself would not mind another romp down the dark corridors of the Nazi Occult War Machine.
In closing, OVERLORD is a grisly supernatural look at World War 2 and a ridiculously great time in the cinema. Great production values and care for the genre propel this film ahead of its problems. Even with its minute flaws, it delivers enough thrills, supernatural mystery, and mayhem to satisfy audiences.