Julius Avery’s Overlord mines enough deeply cathartic tropes – revenge drama, invasion thriller, escapist war film, revivification romp – that the film was always going to lean towards being either a scattershot and aimless homage or an impeccably realized redux. While the movie veers more toward the former than the latter, there’s still enough fun in this broad, brawling beast to keep things entertaining.
The story begins during the D-Day invasion. A platoon of paratroopers head in behind enemy lines with a mission to clear a tower and facilitate the main landing. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is taunted by the some of his fellow motley crew. The scene echoes the likes of dozens of war films but is pitched almost identically to the repeated sequences in Edge of Tomorrow.
Among the group, we meet the hardnosed Rensin (Bokeem Woodbine), the grizzled explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), the wisecracking Tibbet (John Magaro), a cautious Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and a nebbishy Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite).
When things go awry, the survivors encounter a local Frenchwoman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who’s being harassed by local Nazi leader Dr. Wafner (Pilou Asbæk). At this point, we’ve seen plenty of brutality and abuse, as well as poor Chloe being sexually exploited by her German occupiers.
From here, the film shifts into an even odder place, one that might actually have played wonderfully if it were a complete surprise. However, having J.J. Abrams involved in the production means that audiences will already expect the movie to have a Cloverfield-ian genre twist.
When the mayhem truly begins, it makes the film feel somehow even more straightforward, even if the conceit of a bunch of undead super-soldiers is ripe for a myriad of narratives.
It’s difficult to pin down why the movie doesn’t quite come together, but it may be illuminating to look at one scene involving a motorcycle, a tied-up driver, and a hand grenade. In this fleeting moment, the film nails its tone completely, a moment where the gung-ho and brazen war story gets amplified by a clever bit of subterfuge mixed with revenge and brutality.
Unfortunately, there’s little else that matches that level of fun. The rest feels either predictable or strangely structured, as if entire chunks had been lifted during editing. An early invasion of the guarded castle, for example, seems to have completely forgotten the timelines of the other characters, making the extended sequence feel particularly incongruous with the actions of the rest of the crew.
At its core, the film’s ambitions get in the way of its execution, and Overlord never quite lives up to the tonal shifts and mash-up elements that it attempts to convey. Like the events in the opening sequence, the rest of the film is a bunch of chaos, explosions, death and destruction, ending in a landing that’s far from ideal. If you can overlook these flaws, there may be something worth rescuing in Overlord for those wanting to take the plunge.