Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Julius Avery
Writer: Billy Ray, Mark L. Smith
Producer: J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber
Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbaek, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Bokeem Woodbine, Iain De Caestecker, Dominic Applewhite
Ragtag soldiers desperate to salvage a mission behind enemy lines uncover evidence of a terrifying Nazi experiment.
“Overlord’s” story progresses in chapterized chunks cycling through individually themed episodes that include military firefights, interpersonal interactions, espionage procedurals, and mutant monster mayhem. Its prologue in particular operates like a mini “Saving Private Ryan” where we’re introduced to the usual archetypes sent behind enemy lines in cinema.
War may be hardening the eyes of Private Boyce, but the idealistic values of an everyman who was cutting grass three months ago keep his heart of gold intact. Corporal Ford on the other hand, has an “I’m not here to make friends” attitude to match his seasoned maverick steeliness.
Across the aisle, nervous beanpole Rosenfeld watches forces gather below with wide-eyed worry. Tibbet, the lost love child of Edward Burns and a distant Soprano cousin, constantly cracks wise through his loud mouth. Accompanying the squad as a photographer, Chase fiddles with a camera he’ll have no choice but to trade for a rifle soon enough.
Hats off to the commanding officer (read: casting agent) who assembled this sweet Whitman’s Sampler of assorted American G.I. flavors. No professional confectioner would praise the plain taste or simple structure, but the familiarity of chocolate, caramel, and marshmallow does the trick in a pinch.
Our ragtag heroes get ragtaggier when their aircraft goes down over France. Only a handful of soldiers survive this harrowing sequence of gunfire shredding metal, bullet squibs bursting on bodies, and punctured parachutes sending panicking privates hurtling toward the ground. “Overlord” feels the grind of a 110-minute runtime in its talkier moments later down the line. Yet when explosive action takes the wheel like it does during this incredible opening, the film’s foot forces the gas pedal through the floor.
The men mentioned reconnect and eventually cross paths with Chloe, the token splash of estrogen in an otherwise testosterone-exclusive thriller. “Overlord” both quiets down and slows down considerably during these interludes of additional exposition and introductions. What with the way the Nazis interrupted the initial briefing, we only had bare minimum background on the main mission to destroy a tower so air support can be provided for tomorrow’s D-Day assault on Normandy.
For negligible reasons that only make sense to a script with no better way to separate its players, the main men get scattered while holing up in Chloe’s house. SS Officer Wafner then stops by for an obligatory scene of sniffing around while two of the soldiers hide in an attic. Will Boyce and Ford be discovered?
Not exactly. As if being a Nazi wasn’t enough, Wafner is preoccupied with adding more evil to his sleazy sneer by sexually assaulting Chloe. “Overlord” is nothing if not thorough in hitting all of the expected beats for creating copycat characters and scene setups, whether the narrative needs them or not.
Sent to retrieve Tibbet and Chase, Boyce bounds through a series of various vignettes that ends with inadvertently infiltrating an underground lab. There, the movie’s Dr. Mengele secretly conducts sadistic experiments to create an army of invincible soldiers. Instead of Steve Rogers however, his serum is only successful in mutating victims into rageaholic grotesqueries.
Boyce and the boys thought they had it bad when it was just four of them against a tower full of Nazis. Now they have to contend with a powerful platoon of undead human hulks too.
“Overlord” certainly looks slick. Camerawork and editing are crisp. Buckets of blood drench the copious carnage of severed limbs, butchered faces, and blown-up torsos. Performers add a third dimension to 2D characterizations using plenty of personality and more than a pinch of authentic acting that would draw out drama even if “Overlord” were a serious Scorsese or Spielberg epic. Jovan Adepo is especially engaging as Boyce, and a welcome refresh to the vanilla white guy, also known as the Sam Worthington stereotype, who usually fills his role.
Given its pattern of connecting consecutive dots and sluicing its presentation pattern through comic book-y style, “Overlord” might be more captivating as an active video game playthrough rather than a passive movie-watching experience. “Overlord’s” scenes essentially double as “levels” complete with boss battles at each endpoint.
The film relies on so many seen before strokes that déjà vu drags on the fun factor. “Overlord” even copies itself during a climax where three concurrent threads feature the same situation (Boyce, Ford, and Chloe each having a one-on-one confrontation with a villain). It’s hard not to get to lost in a lull and start wondering how a storytelling screwdriver could have tightened the tempo by unleashing outrageous originality while turning down the Hollywood 101 clichés.
But like Houdini with handcuffs, “Overlord” possesses the skillful showmanship to fight free from its drawbacks and overwhelm with pleasing popcorn entertainment. For people to whom “The Thin Red Line” is too grimly realistic and “Frankenstein’s Army” (review here) is too wildly unrealistic, “Overlord” stomps a mainstream middle ground between gritty war drama and howling horror show to become an above average action-adventure spiked with a bite of fright.
Review Score: 60