What is Overlord?
On June 4, 1944, a battalion of American paratroopers are dropped into Nazi-occupied France, on a mission that’s crucial to the Allies’ success. But a Nazi commandant stands in their way, who harbours a dark secret involving evil experiments on the locals, and enemies that are no longer human.
Produced by J.J. Abrams under his Bad Robot banner, Overlord is an over-the-top WWII picture that combines men on a mission movie with creature feature. One that doesn’t — as previously rumoured — take place within the Cloverfield universe. But does straddle genres as effortlessly as Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, combining action and adventure with horror, laughter, and maybe even the odd tear.
The film kicks off in startling fashion, aboard a C-47 transport carrying American soldiers to France on the eve of the war’s most important day. Their mission: to destroy a radio tower that sits on top of a church, so that the airforce can properly support the D-Day landings by sea.
Via quick-fire conversation we’re introduced to the main cast of characters. There’s Boyce (Jovan Adepo) our likeable lead who might be a bit too nice for this war malarky. Ford (Wyatt Russell) an explosives expert whose frosty exterior suggests he’s experienced the true horrors of war first-hand. Tibbet (John Magaro), a wise-cracking smart-arse with just a hint of the bully. And Chase (Iain de Caestecker) a photographer more worried about his camera than his wellbeing.
The guys are set up in effective and economical fashion; their personalities, their hopes, and most obviously their fears all well defined, so that when the proverbial hits the fan, you genuinely care about their survival. And hit it does, in breathtaking fashion as their plane is fired upon, and the soldiers are forced to parachute towards their intended target as chaos reigns in the skies.
What follows starts out a pretty straightforward war adventures, the Americans endeavouring to locate each other on the ground while avoiding detection by the Nazis. They befriend a tough local called Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), whose parents were killed by the Germans, and who therefore wants revenge of her own. And together they formulate a plane to take down the tower.
Then everything changes. Because underneath the church that’s underneath said tower, Boyce discovers true horror. With the Nazis kidnapping the villagers, and “giving them a purpose” by experimenting on their minds and bodies, in an effort to create Hitler’s desired super-race. Meaning their enemy is no longer human. And also meaning that they now have to destroy the basement as well as the tower.
And while we won’t reveal exactly what goes in their subterranean laboratories, it’s enough to earn the film Bad Robot’s first R-rating, with Overlord‘s make-up department — frequently using prosthetics over CGI — doing amazing things with torn flesh, ripped skin, and rancid open wounds.
Special mention should also go to Pilou Asbæk — best known as Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones — who plays the movie’s true monster in the shape of Nazi officer Wafner, a character as charming as he is evil. And who very nearly steals the film from the likeable good guys.
Wolfenstein: The Movie
Genre mash-ups like this aren’t exactly unique. And what follows is a battle between good and evil that’s reminiscent of relatively recent releases Dead Snow and Frankenstein’s Army, just done on a much larger scale.
And on the videogame front, if you’ve ever wanted to watch a film version of Wolfenstein series, you need look no further, with the movie hitting several of the same story beats.
But what sets Overlord apart is the skilled direction, and that character work that happens at the start of the movie, and continues throughout. You genuinely care about these characters, making it heartbreaking when they start losing their lives.
While the dynamic way in which director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) pulls everything together means that the film can handle those violent shifts in tone, with Overlord an emotional rollercoaster that manages to move and thrill and scare. Sometimes within the same scene.
Is Overlord Good?
Overlord is an entertaining B-movie that’s been given a blockbuster budget, and it’s all up there onscreen, the film kicking off with that spectacular set-piece, and following it with striking action and stomach-churning horror.
The film might not bring much new to the genres it straddles, but that doesn’t matter when it’s done with such energy, commitment and skill. Making Overlord a wonderfully bizarre addition to WWII movie canon, and a seriously fun night at the pictures.