In theaters everywhere
Released Nov. 9, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 50min
Directed by Julius Avery
Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk
The night before the D-Day landing, a small squad of American paratroopers are tasked with bringing down a Nazi communications tower in a French village. After a disastrous drop, the ragtag band of survivors, with the help of a young French woman, regroup to carry out the mission, but what they discover is even worse than they could have imagined.
For gamers, it’s simple to just say ‘Wolfenstein: The Movie’. For all else, it’s half straight-faced WWII war epic and half whizz-bang sci-fi/action/horror featuring ghastly Nazi-engineered monstrosities running amok. Either way, a film with this many slaughtered Nazis will never be a bad thing.
More than anything, Overlord is an assault on the senses, and I mean that in a good way. That’s what was promised and it delivers – no complaints there. The opening sequence on the doomed transport plane concluding with a wildly disorienting paradrop through a fiery aerial battleground might be the most thrilling sequence of any horror film this year, but the one at the end – no spoilers – gives it a run for its proverbial money. The opening and closing 15 minutes of Overlord make it worth the price of admission in themselves and demand a big screen for full appreciation. So, what of the 75 minutes in the middle?
It’s a mixed bag. There’s some good moments and memorably grisly visuals to be had, but there’s a noticeable lack of tension throughout this middle portion of the film. After the blistering chaos of the introduction and the story gets established on the ground, everything plays out with little in the way of surprises. Without anything to really throw expectations off balance, the pace has a tendency to slog. For movies that insist upon such a high-octane opener, this can be a common issue and generally opens up an opportunity for some quality character development or exploration of thematic elements, but Overlord is not interested in any of that. It’s fully committed to its big-budget B-movie concept, and while that’s certainly not a bad thing in itself, the story between the grand start and the big finish leaves something to be desired.
This might be due to the way the plot often moves forward, which is by choices from the band of protagonists I came to regard as ‘The Questionable Decisions Brigade’. From the time they land until the moment they launch their final assault, many of the things they do are ill-advised. It doesn’t always backfire on them, but when it does, a new problem or situation is created for them to overcome and that’s a somewhat frustrating way to build a story. These aren’t the deepest characters either, so when one is notable for consistently poking around and messing with stuff that he shouldn’t, that attribute really sticks out. I’m pretty certain I’ve let this same tendency slide in other movies, but those films likely didn’t put the very fate of WWII on the shoulders of its heroes, so it becomes more glaring here.
Those narrative concerns are hardly a deal-breaker though. When Overlord is committed to noisy action and grotesque horror, it’s playing gleefully to its strengths. It’s like Inglorious Basterds meets Re-Animator with touches of Evil Dead, The Terminator, and 28 Days Later splattered within it. The direction by Julius Avery is appropriately a visual spectacle, and the commitment to practical FX work, where possible, is commendable. Also, despite the aforementioned lack of character depth, the acting is solid and because of that lack, it gave Pilou Asbæk a perfect opportunity to chew the scenery as a despicable villain, and he takes it. Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell’s son, really picks up his dad’s grisled protagonist mantle here too – on the strength of the Halloween ‘requel’, maybe we could get a continuation of The Thing with him as MacReady? I’d be willing to slap some money down on the table for that.
For the most part, the movie is as fun as it looks, even if it’s an odd subject for which to look for fun, but it still manages to drive home the fundamental truth that war is hell. It’s more of a cathartic ‘good vs evil’ kind of fun than a shallower ‘PAR-TAY!’ kind of fun. It’s amazing when it’s going full throttle, but not so much when it isn’t. With that average…