You need to see some Nazis get punched? How about gunned down? Blown to bits? Julius Avery’s ultra-violent Overlord’s got you. This preposterous pastiche of a movie blends elements of Inglorious Basterds, Captain America, The Thing, and The Re-Animator to offer a rah-rah message of resistance and a better-than-average B-movie.
Overlord centers on a squad of American soldiers on a mission in Nazi-occupied France to take down a radio tower that’s blocking Allied transmissions. After a deadly assault on their plane, all that remains are a handful of soldiers, including the hardened Ford (Wyatt Russell playing against type), the requisite tough-talking New Yorker (John Magaro), and some new recruits who’re in over their heads, like kind-hearted Boyce (Jovan Adepo). With their plan in tatters, these American soldiers are forced to trust Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a local villager who promises to hide them from the Nazis. But things get more complicated when a recon mission unearths the Nazis plot to make an unstoppable army of super soldiers. Through gruesome human experimentations, they’ve re-animated the corpses of their French captives, turning them into soulless, vicious, violent zombies.
Like Inglorious Basterds, there’s a historical revisionist/wish-fulfillment element to Overlord, that might feel especially satisfying now as Neo-Nazis shamelessly march on American streets. It’s delicious to watch Ford string up Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), a Nazi muckity-muck and rapist, and use his face as a punching bag. Boyce objects to this pummeling, arguing that senseless violence against Nazis makes us more like them than not. And amid the body-horror that evokes John Carpenter’s flesh-twisting creature in The Thing and the horrific set pieces that feature rampaging corpses, and chattering heads dangling spinal columns, there’s an earnest message about the fear of losing your humanity when faced with inhumanity. Basically, Overlord asks—through carnage, fighting, and sprays from flame-throwers—where do we draw the line when fighting Nazis. Spoilers: it ain’t punching them in the face.
Produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, Overlord has a plush budget for its World War II set design and bevy of body-horror effects. There’s a seamless and effectively chilling blend of practical and CGI gore. There’s plenty of action, from a dizzying opening disaster to gunfights, zombie chases, and an epic showdown fueled by the latest experimental batch of super-soldier serum. And at the center of it, you have vibrant performances that smooth over some of the rough corners of this occasionally clunky plot.
When Russell is first introduced as the steely, sneering soldier, I winced. Unlike his dad, he’s not known for a tough guy vibe. With roles in 22 Jump Street, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Black Mirror, he’s got a goofy, approachable bro charm. But the playful glint in his eyes is swallowed by a furrowed brow. His inviting smile gone. And so Russell is reborn in the image of his action hero father, a take-no-shit tough guy ready to punch Nazis in the face and make no apologies. Aside from Boyce, the other soldiers are slim stereotypes, but the cast does well at bringing them to life. Magaro, in particular, stands out, thanks to a subplot where his sharp-tongued New Yorker begins to care for an orphaned French boy who desperately loves baseball. Similarly, Ollivier is given little play beyond steely survivor, but she does this aptly and wields her flamethrower with a thrilling zeal when the time comes. Still, this movie succeeds or fails on the back of Adepo.
The English actor is on the rise, having appeared in the TV series The Leftovers, Sorry for Your Loss, and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. None of which I’ve watched. But even as an unknown (to me), Adepo is easy to accept as a leading man. He’s got the looks, the seemingly effortless fitness, and he’s got a soft side that shines through his dark eyes and gentleness with Chloe. While the world around them is a place of unthinkable horror, hate, and bloodshed, their tender tête-à-têtes remind us what we’re fighting for.
So in the end, Overlord is loud, violent, ridiculous, and deliciously fun. (And it’s not a Cloverfield prequel despite whispers.) There’s little here you haven’t seen before. But Avery stitches together his allusions and action with a confident hand and gives us heroes to root for, plus Nazi face punches to relish.
Header Image Source: Bad Robot