8 out of 10
Jovan Adepo as Boyce
Directed by Julius Avery
Overlord makes no bones about what it is – this is an A-list budgeted movie with a B-movie heart. It knows exactly what it wants to do, and takes itself seriously (even when the movie commits to how goofy it can get). One wink or nudge to its audience, and the balloon gets popped, and to its credit, Overlord never once does that, which makes it much more fun and exciting. The movie throws us straight into it from the opening titles, reminiscent of all those great war films of old, and sprints to the finish line for most of its running time. Overlord also embraces every war movie cliche like a mom to her kids at Thanksgiving, but we don’t mind. The characters, with few exceptions, are straight out of the playbook for these kinds of things, but the actors are having such a good time that it becomes infectious.
Why does Overlord work as well as it does? For one thing, director Julius Avery shoots this thing like he’s being chased. The opening action sequence riffs off of every recent war movie from the past twenty years, but Avery keeps it exciting and intense. He also doesn’t spare the gore – bodies explode with meaty abandon, and the blood and viscera spray like the theater’s on fire. The intensity doesn’t let up, either. Avery, with screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark Smith, are having too much fun smashing genres together to let any distractions get in the way. Overlord is the kind of movie that they put 11 on the volume knobs for.
Sergean Eldson (Bokeem Woodbine) leads a team of paratroopers into Nazi-occupied France with one mission: destroy a radio tower atop a church in a small village so the Allied troops can more easily secure the beaches on D-Day. That tower, if not taken out, could warn the Nazis of the impending invasion before the Allies can gain a foothold. The squad is made up of experienced soldiers, like Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), and rookies, like Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) who literally wouldn’t hurt a mouse if he could help it. But war happens as it does, and the squad gets ripped to pieces on arrival. They soon discover that a radio tower isn’t all that the Nazis are protecting in that church, and Ford, Boyce, and the squad, with the help of a local villager (Mathilde Ollivier), must infiltrate the depths of the church to keep Nazi commandant Wafner’s (Pilou Asbæk) nefarious schemes from coming to fruition.
Boyce is the centerpiece of the film, and Adepo is very likable and easy to root for. He must find his courage in war, especially when he’s faced with the horrible truth of what the Nazis are doing in that church. When Boyce comes face-to-face with true evil, he doesn’t flinch because he knows what the stakes are. But he also has a strong moral compass which sometimes gets him into trouble, including with his superior officer Ford who doesn’t see things with as much moral clarity. Wyatt Russell plays Ford with a bit of that old Snake Plissken grit and gusto, channeling his father Kurt in his scenes and having a grand time doing it. Russell steals the movie from everyone, flat out, and if he wasn’t a star before this film, he certainly will be now. Both Adepo and Russell play very well off each other and it’s a lot of fun watching them work.
When Overlord commits to its pulpy roots, the war/horror hybrid works like gangbusters. Fans of video games like Wolfenstein may find a lot to compare here, but it does what it does so well no one will mind. As this is a J.J. Abrams production, comparisons to Cloverfield are certain to happen, but Overlord feels distinct from those films. If there is a reference, I missed it – the movie is relentlessly paced, and doesn’t stop until it crosses the finish line. Getting the primordial dread of a horror film and the action intensity of a war film to work together is a tough mix, but Avery does it remarkably well. Those expecting a deep commentary on the nature of war should probably look elsewhere. Overlord is all about the Nazi-punching, Nazi-exploding, and Nazi-perforating, with heroes worth rooting for, villains to hiss at, and monsters to tremble at. It’s a full throttle blast, and one hell of an entertaining ride.