It’s June 6, 1944 and Allied forces are preparing to invade the beaches of Normandy. In the air, a team of soldier are preparing to skydive into Nazi territory. They have a simple mission: eliminate a radio tower that is blocking communications. Destruction of that tower will allow Allied forces to have air support for the troops on the ground. The skies run red with the fire of artillery and planes exploding. The plane is hit. Men are pulled from the plane. Few soldiers are able to make their planned jump. Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is flung from the plane, twisting and turning in the air as he struggles to unleash his parachute. The frame centers the falling soldier as the edges of the scene have planes flying, bombs exploding – chaos in the sky above Nazi occupied France. This isn’t the opening scene to a World War II drama. This is the opening to director Julius Avery’s Overlord, a B-movie set during the second world war. Nazi monsters vs. American GIs could be an interesting genre exercise, but Overlord is a clichéd mess that is often tedious and predictable, lacking in wit and imagination.
Upon landing on the ground, Boyce witnesses his platoon’s Sergeant (Bokeem Woodbine in an extended cameo) gunned down by Nazis. Only a few of Boyce’s brothers in arms made it the ground alive. The ragtag team is led by Ford (Wyatt Russell), a gruff, war-hardened explosives expert. Behind Ford is motormouthed New Yorker Tibbet (John Magaro) and the war photographer Rosenfeld (Iain De Caestecker). One edges of a Nazi occupied village, the soldiers encounter Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a young woman trying to survive the horrors of the occupation while caring for her younger brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). But this poor young woman is often terrorized by the cruel SS officer Dr. Wafner (Pilou Asbæk). The grim specter of evil hangs over this little village, and the US GIs will soon discover that what’s happening here is spectacularly evil even for Nazis.
The first half of Overlord tries to play it completely straight, as if it’s a standard men on a mission war film. It’s not a convincing impersonation and really seems to be a rehash of numerous much better films. Maybe this attempt an ol’ switcharoo might be convincing if producer JJ Abrams was able to completely utilize his mystery box. But can you sell a World War II monster movie by hiding the monsters? I don’t think so. When the reveals come there’s a sense that it’s about damn time. Just as you think the film is ramping up with its monstrous horrors, transitioning into a full blown twist of war and horror, it really just settles into the clichés that were a part of the set up. Even the film’s attempts at jump scares are so clumsily crafted you know that they’re coming. It’s not scary. It’s not unsettling. It’s just boring.
The evil creations hidden beneath this French village are a breed of super soldiers, or as Dr. Wafner so bluntly put it, “a thousand-year Reich needs thousand-year soldiers.” They’re not quite zombies and they’re not quite terrifying. Even though they’re not effectively frightening creatures, the make effects crew on the film did stellar work – it’s not their fault that Julius Avery can’t do anything with their magnificent creature creations.
I really wanted to like Overlord. I used to play Wolfenstein way back when. The Nazis and their evil experiments provide ample opportunity for tales of terror. And yet the screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith leans so heavily on clichés that you can’t find yourself wrapped up in the action. The characters are paper-thin, leaving the actors with little to work with. Overlord is a film with nothing to say aside from Nazis are bad and are literal monsters. Gee, thanks for the history lesson, guys. I guess the truly remarkable thing about Overlord is that you get two bad movies for the price of one.
An underwhelming war film collides with an underwhelming horror film in Julius Avery’s Overlord, a derivative attempt at a genre mashup that leans heavily on clichés from both genres.