REVIEW: Overlord Mostly Delivers The Bloody Goods
Going into Overlord, one could reasonably expect for this have more twists and turns than it actually does what with the Bad Robot logo implying a certain level of pre-release mystery behind it. Are the studio’s usual “mystery box” shenanigans here? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding no. Overlord is about as straightforward a movie J.J. Abrams has ever been attached to. No Cloverfield connections or twee little Easter eggs or hints at a much larger universe. It takes the Alien approach of treating B-movie pulp material with A-level ambition and intelligence (even if it still has a few shortcomings that prevent it from being a classic). Refreshingly, it’s perfectly content with a self-contained schlockfest with an occasional streak of dark humor with a higher price tag than this sort of fare usually costs.
So, what’s the story? Set around D-Day, a bunch of American GI’s go behind enemy lines to take out a massive radio tower where they find something much more sinister is lurking underneath its surface. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s paced economically, never outstaying its welcome or showing all the tricks it has up its sleeve too early. Man, does this thing have some great production values behind it. Newcomer Julius Avery directs New World Pictures-level material like its Inglorious Basterds and the result is a bloody good time that never goes too campy or too serious. Whatever the budget was, it looks like it cost double that amount. From the newsreel homage in the opening credits to the gangbusters paratrooper sequence, the first fifteen minutes alone justify the price of admission. Overlord boasts the best opening of any WWII since Saving Private Ryan. It’s a brute-force, cut straight to the action kind of introduction and works marvelously well as such.
Anything can happen and anyone can die at any time. It’s a spectacular way of keeping an audience on their toes without feeling cheap. Even in it’s slower moments, the film never gets boring and uses the down time to create tension and mystery. All of which is well and good, even if the big mystery is never fully explained. The film tells you about as much as you need to know plot-wise and little more. Simple premise, simple execution. Plus, once it gets to the zombie stuff, it delivers carnage in spades. Nazis get blown up, shot, stabbed, beaten, you name a way a person can be hurt and it happens to them here. It’s visceral, nerve-wracking, anarchic and an absolute blast to watch.
Consider what they have to play, the cast does an admirable job breathing some life into characters that are little more than the traditional stock archetypes for war flicks. Jovan Adepo is a sympathetic lead and Mathilde Ollivier makes for a capable heroine. Wyatt Russell is the standout among the cast, evoking the grizzled affectations and swagger that made his father an icon of cinematic masculinity thirty years ago. Pilou Asbæk really kills as the film’s antagonist. Once he goes full-on mad scientist, he cranks things up to eleven and stays there for the rest of the film. From his grotesquely disfigured appearance to his mile-wide grin, he’s a memorable villain in a film that’s mostly bereft of interesting characters.
In the end, Overlord is the kind of thing that feels like it was ripped straight from a vintage issue of DC’s Weird War Tales comics from the 1970’s with an added level of grindhouse edge for good measure. While I’m absolutely wishing we get some more meat behind all the chaos, the chaos we’ve got here is admittedly pretty damn good. Lots of great action, fun dialogue and buckets upon buckets of Nazi bloodletting. The ground it’s treading is certainly familiar; but, it does it well enough and adds enough new flourishes to where that isn’t an issue. For what it is, it’s an entertaining time at the movies. It’s exactly what the trailer sells you and whoever said truth in advertising was ever a bad thing.