By Matthew Kim
Overlord (2018), directed by Julius Avery and produced by J.J Abrams, is another entry in the long list of films depicting American soldiers “saving God’s good kingdom from the Nazis.” However, Overlord is not your typical emotional war drama—instead it’s a batsh*t crazy WWII movie with Nazi zombies and a ragtag paratrooper unit of cliche soldiers trying to stop them. The film does not fail to deliver dazzling firefights, slimy zombies (though it could have used more), and entertaining one-liners; however, the poor pacing and uncharismatic characters prevent Overlord from reaching its full potential as a B-horror film.
Overlord follows a paratrooper unit on a mission to disable a German jamming tower to ensure the success of Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day; however, on their mission, they encounter “Nazi Frankenstein’s” lair crawling with mangled bodies and unnatural horrors. Boyce, the protagonist, is the fresh recruit with a naive view of the world. Tidbitt is the token Italian-American character and an ambitious sniper with the goal of taking out Hitler. Corporal Ford is a war-hardened soldier that sharpens his knife while making his mean “serious” face and spouts corny one-liners that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush. From the beginning, it’s clear that the film’s characters are not going to be the highlight of the film. Instead, they are simply cardboard cutout personalities from other war movies. Character development is a myth in Overlord. This issue is compounded by the fact that there aren’t any actors that step up to the plate when it comes to acting or injecting any charisma into the film, which it desperately needs.
The opening sequence fires on all cylinders, as the airplane carrying the main characters gets torn apart and plunges into chaos. The sounds of the anti-aircraft rounds exploding and bullets narrowly whizzing past Boyce accompanied by his frantic breathing create an engrossing scene that sets the film up nicely. However, the momentum quickly comes to a grinding halt, as the next third is mostly spent in a small cottage in the french town, with a few brief glimpses of the Nazi labs. It’s not until the last 30 minutes that the film picks up the pace set by the introduction, but the supposed climax is still a let-down. Overlord needs to rely more on its superb action sequences or spend more time developing its main selling point, the Nazi zombies. There is no way the boring characters could have been capable of preserving the momentum. Sadly, the zombies are given little screen time and their menacing presence was cut way too short. Even then, they were still more interesting than the paratroopers.
Overlord’s action scenes are exhilarating and adrenaline pumping, whether it be the main characters mowing down Nazi soldiers with machine guns or a nearly immortal zombie chasing a helpless French girl down claustrophobic underground tunnels. The sound design of the punches, gun fire, and dismemberment amplify the intensity of the action and violence displayed on screen. Sometimes the film takes it to another level with its violence, making it difficult to not turn away or naturally whisper “Damn…” while viewing, but it contributes to the “over the top-ness” the film was trying to achieve. The same thing cannot be said for the “horror” aspects of Overlord. “Horror” being emphasized--there isn’t any real horror besides ultra-violent images and a few tired horror gimmicks. The film relies much too heavily on the gimmick where a character looks into an empty room, gets distracted, and when he looks back, “BUAHH!”- a zombie pops up with loud music. Really? These scenes could be predicted from a mile away. Nonetheless, Overlord does not disappoint when it comes to delivering enthralling action set pieces even if its horror elements could have been more creatively executed.
The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you. It’s apparent that the film wanted to emphasize intensity of firefights and Nazi zombies, while leaving character development on the backburner. On top of that, the exchanges between characters reminded me of 1980s action films like Die Hard where sophisticated dialogue is replaced with goofy but ultimately badass lines. The gorefest and blood-pumping action scenes cover up the film’s weaker components just enough to be provide one hell of an experience in a twisted version of WWII.