In Overlord, a squad of paratroopers is sent to destroy a German radio tower in an old church, but before they reach their destination, their plane is shot down. Only a few of them survive and it’s this ragtag team who has to complete the mission.
In a technically impressive, utterly insane, and harrowing opening sequence, Overlord starts in the skies over Normandy on June 5, 1944—it’s the eve of D-Day. Where Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan showed us the horrific reality experienced by the soldiers who fought on the beaches, Overlord shows us the seldom-explored nightmare in the clouds.
They’re led by the battled-hardened, seen-it-all-before Cpl. Ford. It’s an archetypal character we’ve seen many times before, but it’s played with aplomb by Wyatt Russell—who just happens to be the son of action/horror movie icon Kurt Russell. Wyatt looks and sounds uncannily like his father, and Cpl. Ford has both the swagger of Snake Plissken (Escape from New York) and the sardonic sneer of R. J. MacReady (The Thing). Yeah, he’s one bad-ass mother fucker.
Our main character, however, is Pvt. Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo). Boyce is a greenhorn kid who’s not quite up to the challenges about to come his way, but his moral compass may prove to be enough to see him through.
Along the way, they meet up with Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a French civilian, who guides them to their final destination. Chloe’s character is a little uneven; she’s introduced as a knife-wielding scavenger but deteriorates into a damsel-in-distress. I would have liked to have seen that tough-as-nails attitude carried throughout.
Pilou Asbæk, who portrays Euron Greyjoy in the television series Game of Thrones, is our main Nazi baddy. Asbæk is given the room to show his impressive range with scenery-chewing monologues and a devilish, hulking presence. It’s a fiendish and note-perfect performance.
But what appears to be a by-the-numbers WWII action flick, quickly turns into a B-movie horror/action hybrid. Remember that German radio tower in the old church? Well, it also houses a secret Nazi lab where they’re trying to develop a serum that can bring dead soldiers back to life. And, of course, the serum also gives them super strength and an insatiable desire to dominate and destroy their enemy.
With shades of 28 Days Later and Hostel, this is where the real fun begins. It’s a genre mashup that twists the standard WWII plotline in an unexpected and interesting manner. This is something that producer J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot have become known for—there’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and its predecessor Cloverfield, for instance. And director Julius Avery pulls it all off with elegant camera work and concise storytelling to boot.
In 2017, Jordan Peele’s Get Out successfully explored systemic racism through genre and this was a missed opportunity in Overlord. Pvt. Boyce is black, and one would expect this to be a big issue in 1944. Remarkably, the Nazis and his fellow soldiers take no issue with this at any point in the movie. It’s weird. Taking a stance on it would have elevated this movie from good to great by allowing it to resonate with the present day. Overlord completely glosses over it.
Don’t let that deter you from seeing Overlord; it’s a wild, heart-attack-inducing ride that begs to be experienced. You’ll laugh, you’ll shout, and you’ll pump your fists when Wyatt Russell delivers a too-cool-for-school one-liner.
They don’t make many genre-defying movies like Overlord and, if this is your cup of tea, go out and rent it. Let those studio bosses know you want more of this kinda stuff.