I couldn’t help but think while watching “Overlord” that it’s one of the best video game movies ever made, and yet it’s not even based on a video game. If it were a video game “Wolfenstein” would be the best comparison. “Overlord” does make me want to play WWII Zombies on “Call Of Duty Black Ops 3”.
On 6 June 1944, the Allies launched the greatest amphibious invasion in history. Codenamed “Overlord” but best known today as “D-Day”, the operation saw Allied forces landing on the beaches of Normandy in Nazi occupied France in huge numbers. This is where the JJ Abrams produced
“Overlord” takes place. An allied airborne unit is on a mission to drop a dozen or so paratroopers behind enemy lines in France with one mission in mind: destroy a radio tower before the rest of the Allied forces storm the beaches of Normandy in six short hours.
On the plane ready to chute is a ragtag legion of Americans including the meek and scrupulous Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the wise-cracking Tibbet (John Magaro), budding writer Dawson (Jacob Anderson), photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and the most badass of the bunch, Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). In a vividly spectacular and immersive opening sequence in which their plane is shot down before the troops can parachute, we instantly identify with Boyce as our main audience surrogate. Touching down, Boyce finds himself in hostile German territory. Ford, Boyce and the others scatter and reunite before meeting a local Parisian girl named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who leads the troops to her small home village. There, a sinister enclave of German patrolmen, lead by the odious Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), keep the village on intense lockdown. Boyce and Chloe begin to forge a tender kinship, especially after Boyce catches a peek at Chloe’s so called sick aunt, whose slimy, febrile, vein-bulging hideousness suggests she’s been infected with some kind of super virus.
“Overlord” is the follow-up for Aussie director Julius Avery whose only previous film was the under seen Ewan McGregor thriller “Son Of A Gun”, both “Overlord” and “Son Of A Gun” couldn’t be more different. This is a huge step up in scale, budget and filmmaking for Avery. Watching “Overlord” it’s obvious why he’s being touted for the long gestating “Flash Gordon” update as he’s got some serious talent in putting together action sequences. His skill for action is evident right from the opening. The claustrophobia of the plane, them being shot down and the terror of paratrooper Boyce’s decent to earth are expertly conveyed, kicking the movie off in an intense way. As we fall with Boyce we get a potent, point of view sense of vertigo.
The script, by acclaimed writer Billy Ray (“Flightplan”, “State Of Play”, “Shattered Glass” and “Captain Phillips”) and co screenwriter Mark L. Smith, knows how ridiculous it is and it celebrates the fact. It’s helped by the three leads. Adepo playing Boyce brings the right degree of intellect and innocence to his part, but many will walk away finding star Wyatt Russell as their favorite, he was mine. He’s cast in a part that trades on his uncanny resemblance to his father, Kurt Russell, and positions him as the heir apparent to his dad’s crown. Adopting his dad’s swagger, hints of his voice and framed as a future action hero, this is certainly an effort to make him into a star.
“Overlord” is Men on a Mission story, exploring the crash survivors and their trek across the wilderness, encountering Nazi patrols along the way. It’s here where the feature slows down to a crawl, handling characterization and discovery without any concern for pace. Considering the sheer anarchy and intensity of the films opening, it’s disappointing to watch it melt away into exposition and repetitive scenes of infighting, with Wyatt Russell struggling to maintain control over his group, try and count how many times he says “tower”. It takes “Overlord” just under an hour to get back on its feet, in a sequence featuring a serum and its effects finally kicks the movie into the high gear. The gonzo, gore packed final act is where the movie is amazing. The second half of the film is overloaded with action, violence, and the maddest of mad sciences.
The film grows and grows in intensity.
It could have easily gotten a Netflix release, but what seems to be a healthy budget and the producing power of JJ Abrams, “Overlord” gets it’s wide theatrical release. It hits all old-school genre tropes and infuses cheesy grindhouse thrills. Avery isn’t crafting a parody of the genre, he gives it a slight spin. “Overload” will push all the right buttons for hard core horror and action fans. Avery’s camera angles are dynamic and jagged, by framing the action for maximum shock value. I just wish the first half were done the same way.
GRADE: ★★1/2 OUT OF ★★★★★ (5)