If one is looking for a realistic World War Two movie, look elsewhere. Overlord takes all of its war visuals and scenarios from Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, to the point of thievery, but all that is just backdrop to the story. What this movie is really about are Nazi monster super-soldier experiments, and the small squad of American paratroopers who put a stop to it. It’s bloody, full of gore, and, somehow, works as a serious tale with no absurdity.
From 2018, Overlord comes to us from the Bad Robot stable. Producer JJ Abrams has said it is not part of the Cloverfield universe, so I will take him at his word, but it could fit right in should JJ and company ever want it to. There are no huge monsters or alien invasions in this film, but Nazis tinkering with the human genome to create killing machines could be woven into that universe without much effort, I’m sure. Perhaps it would be overkill to add Nazis to the list of apocalyptic threats in that continuity.
Overlord, as history buffs out there might have guessed, takes place on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. The invasion of Europe by the allies is underway. The 101st Airborne is part of the paratrooper force leading the way. The movie begins aboard one of the transport planes, and it’s an efficient way for viewers to meet the principals in the cast.
The main character is Private Boyce, played by Jovan Adepo. He’s joined by Privates Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite); Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell); and Sergeant Rensin (Bokeem Woodbine).
Once everyone is introduced, along with some other tertiary characters that don’t matter, viewers are treated to the jump scene from Band of Brothers turned up to eleven. Soldiers get mangled, planes blow up, fire consumes all it touches, and somehow Boyce makes it to the ground alive. After seeing Rensin killed by German soldiers, Boyce meets up with the surviving characters named above, and it’s off to a local village where lay his unit’s objective: a German radio set up inside a church’s bell tower.
The village is full of Nazis, but the squad take refuge in the home of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). She agrees to help the American soldiers, as the Nazis have been performing experiments on the locals, in the same church with the radio. Her own aunt (Meg Foster), has been horribly disfigured by the experiments, in a nasty bit of makeup work from the production.
The Allies were unaware there was anything else going on in the church, but it’s hard to pass by something like this without blowing it up. So, the rest of the movie follows the heroes as they vanquish the Nazis and their monstrous creations.
There is a lot of combat, with many bullets and limbs flying about. Director Julius Avery chose to use action in this film rather than menace, or a slow build to horror. That’s fine, too. Even with all the guts being spilled, Overlord moves like any big-budget popcorn flick. With a budget of around 38 million bucks, this movie wasn’t made on the cheap, but in a movie with this much CGI, one can spot how this differs from the stuff pumped out by Disney.
One thing Avery uses quite a lot is cliché. The war scenarios and characters are taken right out of the World War Two movie playbook. This is encapsulated most of all by the character of Tibbet. Magaro plays him like every wiseass soldier from Brooklyn or South Philly that populates films like this. It’s such a familiar character that it would be odd to see a film set during World War Two without a guy like Tibbet. The good news is that Magaro does about as a good a job as can be done with a role so rote.
In fact, all of the cast is up to their parts. Ford emerges as the leader among the characters, and the only criticism I have of Russell’s portrayal of him is that he seems more than just a corporal. He gets after it like Patton.
Another performance of note was given by Pilou Asbæk, who plays a Nazi named Wafner. He’s no Hans Landa, but in a film featuring Nazi scientists doing the most awful things to people, Wafner somehow managed to be the most evil of them all.
Overlord is the kind of movie where one must sit back and allow themselves to be entertained. There are no deep themes to it, and not much in the way of art. It’s somewhat relentless, and that could be off-putting. In addition, the liberal use of overused tropes appears to have been meant to steer a viewer into the sci-fi and horror elements of the plot, but it makes it feel as if the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered with making half of their movie original.
Overlord is entertainment as a distraction. It’s for those evenings when one doesn’t give much of a damn what they watch. Grab some fast food, drink some mass market beer, put on a movie like this, and, next thing one knows, it will be time for bed.