It is very nearly the plot of a videogame. That sentence isn’t written in some sort of hyperbolic way either – the “Wolfenstein” franchise has spent no small amount of time exploring the various hypothetical things the Nazis could have done to make super soldiers in order to stop the Allies during World War II.
The games don’t have a monopoly on the notion, however, and that is wonderful because it means that we get movies like director Julius Avery’s “Overlord.” This is not a movie that is setting out to win any awards, but it is a huge crowd-pleaser of a film, a true thrill ride and all the other terrible adjectives that get used in pull-quotes.
In brief, it is centered on a group of American soldiers whose mission is to drop into France just prior to D-Day. They are to blow up a Nazi radio tower on top of a church in order to halt Nazi communications and allow for better air support of the troops landing on beaches. When the troops get to the little French town, however, they find that something nefarious is taking place – a Nazi scientist is working with the dead and the living to do… something which involves bringing the dead back to life and possibly a whole lot more. Naturally, the heavily outmanned and outgunned Americans reluctantly take it upon themselves to put an end to these Nazi horrors.
“Overlord” is a high-concept mash-up of a World War II film, sci-fi, and horror. It features a script from Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith based on a story by Ray, and that story is really just as over the top and wacky as it sounds in the above paragraph. The movie isn’t simply gory, it is at turns funny and shocking and heartbreaking. This is not to say that there’s something for everyone here, because it’s definitely the blood and gore which lead the way and anyone who goes for the heartbreak and isn’t into the blood and gore will not enjoy the film.
There are some truly gruesome moments throughout, not just when the Nazi super-soldiers get involved. Filmed in a hyper-realistic manner, the audience is placed right into the middle of the action during the opening sequence which sees the soldiers inside an airplane learning of their mission and getting ready to parachute as they fly over occupied airspace.
Leading the cast are Jovan Adepo as Boyce, Wyatt Russell as Ford, and Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe. The first two are soldiers, with Ford leading the mission while Chloe is a local in the town whom the soldiers—a group which also includes Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain de Caestecker), Dawson (Jacob Anderson), and Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite)—befriend. Adepo, Russell, and Ollivier are all outstanding, with Russell setting the bar (anyone who has seen him in “Lodge 49” will get an entirely different sort of character here).
The baddies are led by Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), and Asbæk does an admirable job in the role as well. He is the personification of evil in this movie and almost seems to relish the job.
Avery and company have paced the film beautifully, repeatedly ratcheting up and then cutting back on the tension until the audience is at the edge of its seat for the climax. That moment, unlike in so many other films, does not overstay its welcome. In this regard, the movie feels almost effortless – one moment flows beautifully into the next and the audience is carried along with it all.
“Overlord” is inventive and bloody and even if every step of the way doesn’t necessarily make logical sense, it is impossible to not get swept up in the affair. It doesn’t just work, it works wonderfully.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures