“Overlord” fails to reach its full potential, but entertains nonetheless

Theatrical poster for

Theatrical poster for "Overlord." Photo Credit: http://www.impawards.com/2018/overlord.html

Matt Ponikvar, Contributing Writer

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A menagerie of war films, horror thrillers and a dash of action movies. That’s what “Overlord” feels like. It’s a war horror film directed by Julius Avery starring Jovan Adepo (“The Leftovers”) and Wyatt Russell (“Black Mirror”). It was released on Nov. 9 and follows a group of U.S. paratroopers who uncover horrific Nazi experiments and fight to survive against bloodthirsty monsters.

The best way I can describe this movie is one word: excess, but in a good way for the most part. There is excessive violence, excessive gore and an excessive amount of boring characters. “Overlord” is not meant to be taken as seriously as your typical war movie. It takes place in an alternate history in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” or the video game “Wolfenstein,” but unlike those stories, it tries to have a more serious tone, and the opening sequence is more reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan.”

The film drags on for the next half hour. The run time clocks in at 110 minutes, but it really, it could’ve been trimmed down to 90. Once the soldiers, led by Boyce (Adepo) and Ford (Russell), hit the ground and start walking to a small German-occupied french village, it turns into an absolute slog, fleshing out characters who are just pure cliche. There’s your typical stereotypes that you find in every war movie. A loud mouthed New Yorker, the quiet leader, the rookie, the writers really run the gambit on uninteresting character archetypes. It really doesn’t get good until the soldiers discover the Nazis have an underground laboratory under the town church. The movie then takes a dramatic turn as they make a shocking discovery that the Nazi scientists have been experimenting on the French civilians and reanimating corpses in an effort to create super soldiers. It’s a pretty good idea for a movie that’s not so far-fetched considering the Nazi’s were very much into supernatural experiments and research during World War II.

A real highlight of the movie is the special effects. It has mostly practical effects and the only time the movie used considerable CGI is during the opening plane sequence of Boyce skydiving into a barrage of explosions and fire before plummeting into a lake. The reanimated experiments look horrific and as mentioned earlier there’s gore aplenty. When Boyce is surveying the laboratory, there’s truly some disturbing imagery as you see what the head Nazi scientist (Pilou Asbaeck) has done to the French townsfolk, it really drives home the fact this is still a horror movie.

Another aspect of the movie I enjoyed was that it was almost entirely apolitical. It isn’t shoehorning in badly written social commentaries like I was expecting. There’s no racism towards Boyce from his fellow soldiers because he’s black even though the unfair treatment of black soldiers in World War II is well documented. It just isn’t what this movie is about, and quite frankly, I would have zero confidence in the writers of this film handling a subject like that (more on that later).

It is worth noting that the budget for Overlord is 38 million which is relatively small for a war movie-at times it showed but rookie director Julius Avery also covered it up pretty well. The most glaring example of the small budget is there’s really only three locations in the film, the outskirts of the village, inside the village and the underground laboratory beneath the church. Once you realize that it’s easy to see why the budget was a little low for this one.

Now let’s move on to the absolute worst aspect of this film: the writing. Before I begin on why I hated the characters, I wanted to point out that I went into this movie expecting to not care about the characters, but I made a real effort to give the movie a chance. Needless to say that did not happen, I could not remember any of their names besides the protagonist Boyce. Let’s start with him, Boyce is a fresh faced rookie who matures over the course of the film, really groundbreaking character work here. On to Ford, the de facto leader of the unit and your prototypical leader of men. Ford is played by Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell, and the whole time he was on screen I couldn’t help but remember how cool his dad is in past movies, so not a star making performance from Wyatt to say the least. The rest of the soldiers are entirely forgettable cannon fodder for Nazi soldiers and monstrous experiments. There’s also a French woman who aids the paratroopers named Chloe (Mathilde Oliver), who I thought was cool but looking back on it she didn’t really add anything meaningful to the story. That’s not to say any of these performances are bad, for the most part the acting is good, especially from Adepo who does a great job of conveying his character’s fear to the audience, but the writing isn’t interesting enough to make me care about any of the characters.

That last paragraph might’ve sounded like an utter takedown of “Overlord” but believe it or not, I actually enjoyed the last hour and a half quite a bit, it’s an over the top good time because of the special effects and scares, it isn’t bogged down by bad dialogue and boring buildup. If you’re willing to suffer through badly written characters and a slow first half hour, I recommend giving it a shot. “Overlord” is a fresh take on war films as well as the horror film genre, I only wish it’s overall execution matched it’s interesting premise.

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