Earlier this year we got an underwhelming “Cloverfield” universe addition called “The Cloverfield Paradox” that left fans wanting more from the J.J. Abrams produced franchise that explores different genres in science fiction with each film. With Abrams producing another movie released this weekend called “Overlord” many believed this would be the SECOND “Cloverfield” tie-in movie to be released in 2018, alas it is not. “Overlord” is an intriguing movie though, one that melds war film and zombie horror into a single project with the full intent of being a no-holds-barred cinematic experience of gore and fun. But how well does it actually do the job? Well I’m here to fill you in. This is my review of “Overlord”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Overlord” takes place during World War II and follows a crew of American paratroopers dropped in behind enemy lines to disable and destroy a Nazi communications post in a nearby church. The platoon is made up of unique characters including the kind-hearted Pvt. Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) and others. The crew is assisted by French civilian Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) while they attempt to complete their mission over the course of a single night. During that time they are confronted by a Nazi captain named Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) who is charged with kidnapping civilians from Chloe’s village for experiments within the church compound. As the soldiers push forward with this mission they learn that these experiments are turning people into monsters as part of a darker underground plot to bolster the German army for a new world order.
“Overlord” is a flashy and incredibly engaging movie in my opinion. Written by Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) and Billy Ray (“Volcano” and “The Hunger Games”) I was not surprised how stylish and intense this movie was right from the start. “Overlord” kicks off with incredible action right from the get-go and never lets up introducing us to main characters, the dangers of the drop in and the mission all in a matter of fifteen minutes with an incredible air battle to compliment it all. The action just never stops from there on out as the soldiers make their way through mine fields, a Nazi controlled village and, eventually, into a castle of unknown dangers. It’s wonderfully paced too moving from one conflict to another seamlessly without feeling rushed but also lets up to take a breath once in a while before getting right back to it. To use a single word “Overlord” can be summed up as simple “fun” and the filmmakers knew that the whole point of this out-there premise was to be more enjoyable than deep. They took that approach with amazing conviction.
But that’s not to say that “Overlord” can’t be taken seriously. On the contrary. It just doesn’t take itself TOO seriously. You can have so much fun with this film while also seeing some underlying themes that could serve as commentary on humanity. “Overlord” also does a fine job establishing the villainy of its antagonists without making them feel cliched or ridiculous. There’s a nice balance with both the heroes and the villains that make them all feel complex, even if we know little about them as people outside of the war. As a cross-genre film “Overlord” has plenty of action to spare and provides some great horror moments from time to time. It never leans too heavily in either direction capturing the charm of both a typical action thriller and a B-movie horror flick while never feeling campy or over the top. Looking as the monsters, the designs of the creatures and the makeup used for some of the effects is not only convincing, its unique. We’ve never seen “zombie” creatures quite like this. They’re truly threatening and terrifying to see and they pose a legitimate threat to the heroes in their own unique way. What’s neat about this story is there have long been rumors and even confirmed cases where real world Nazis performed experiments on Jews and other captured citizens. “Overlord” takes that concept a step further feeling grounded in the possibilities of what real world Nazis were trying to accomplish while also taking things into the realm of science fiction to be interesting and outlandish in all the right ways. The writers and director Julius Avery clearly had a vision and they saw it through perfectly.
Of course, this is all supported by a decent cast of characters who are each given different personalities to help them stand out in the group. I have my problems with the character development in this movie which I’ll touch on in a minute but I will say it’s very clear the cast is having just as much fun as the audience is with neat one liners for some levity and intense shootouts, one-on-one standoffs and even some moral conundrums that add depth to this non-stop thrill ride. Jovan Adepo is the clear breakout star of the film as the level-headed Pvt. Boyce but others like the likes of Wyatt Russell, John Magaro and “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D’s” Iain De Caestecker prove they can hold their own on screen. Pilou Asbæk should also be commended as the main antagonist of the film who’s character evolves over the course of the project from vile to outright insane while Mathilde Ollivier, in one of her first real big screen appearances, provides a charming badass of a woman that can hold her own and, in fact, steals the show with one particular scene in the final act that was just epic to watch. It’s a great cast full of smaller names who are given the chance to let loose and have a great time and no character feels underused or forsaken, even those with bit parts.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Talking about the characters though outside of their individual personalities which are mostly depicted through a specialty (such as a camera for the photographer) or an accent there’s really not a lot we get to learn about the men taking on this dangerous mission. In fact, we learn more about Chloe, their female civilian partner, than we do any of the guys and while I did find myself feeling for characters who were killed off I couldn’t even remember their names. I had to look them up to make sure I could talk about the characters in this review. I can’t say you could replace these guys with ANYONE and it wouldn’t change a thing because it’s not like these characters aren’t well developed as people in the moment, but we rarely learn about their pasts or why they are the way they are. I found it to be an odd situation where I did feel invested in the characters and they are memorable in their own way but in a lot of ways they’re also faceless heroes that never really imprinted their own identities on me as the viewer. I had fun watching them. I loved how they were portrayed. But I couldn’t remember any names or anything past their central purpose to the story which, to be bluntly honest, is all you really need to know to enjoy this movie.
The one other aspect of “Overlord” I wasn’t too thrilled with was that yes this is a zombie movie at its core, but the “zombies” aren’t really that numerous. I expected more from the creatures but they actually play a smaller part in the film with even the final battles relegated to one-on-one confrontations instead of the zombie hordes we’re used to seeing from the genre. I guess it makes sense in the context of the story once you learn more about the experiments, but a lot of times we get some odd visuals and spooky ideas put to screen that never pan out to be much more than just that, an idea that someone thought would look cool. Not to mention the CGI effects used on some of the creatures does leave something to be desired, but thankfully a lot of practical effects are used as well for the makeup and creature designs. Most irritating of all though for me in hindsight was that there’s a subplot involving someone close to Chloe that is never resolved even after the soldiers discover the connection this has with the experiments of the Nazis. It’s an open door meant to help the characters get a feel for the dangers that lay ahead but it’s never closed and thus feels like an add on more than a required detail to drive the plot forward. Now nothing I’ve complained about here takes away from how fun and engaging this movie is, but these issues do prove that “Overlord” could have used a little more polish. It does feel inspired though and maybe some of these images were left without explanation to add to the mystery, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. In the end I can almost promise you won’t care as much as I do about these little details though because I promise you you’ll be so enthralled with the explosions and gunfire and edge of your seat action that you probably won’t even notice there are flaws until you sit down and think it over in the aftermath.
“Overlord” is just epic. It’s fun, engaging and thrilling from start to finish. It gives audiences exactly what they expect. It’s unique in its premise, contains some fun performances and creature designs, and never lets up continuously throwing something at the screen to keep you interested. You’ll barely even realize there are flaws with this film and even still those flaws are few and far between even when you go digging for them. I know a lot of people expected this to be a “Cloverfield” entry and I really was hoping that it would at least be a big step up from “The Cloverfield Paradox”. Thankfully even though this is not canon with J.J. Abrams sci-fi franchise it is the big improvement I was hoping for and, who knows, maybe it will be retconned someday to be part of that series. It definitely feels like it deserves to be included somewhere in that collection. But even as a standalone project though “Overlord” is a harmless and shamelessly enjoyable piece of horror action fun that I can’t wait to experience again sometime soon.