Review by C.J. Bunce
With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.
The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie. Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone. It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live. It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years. If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.
It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow. The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day. Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower. Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4. What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men. It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.
The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff. Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like. To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers. Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers. Spoiler: They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.
Picking up soldiers Tibbet (The Umbrella Academy’s John Magaro), Chase (Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Iain De Caestecker), and Rosenfeld (The King’s Speech’s Dominic Applewhite), they must face off against a ruthless German captain played by Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk, who is assaulting French villager Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). Ollivier turns out to be a high point of the film, as she pursues the Germans head on, kicking ass and taking names Unglourious Basterds style, trying to rescue her kidnapped little brother. Keep an eye out in a blink-or-miss-it cameo by Meg Foster (They Live) as Chloe’s disfigured test subject aunt and Bokeem Woodbine (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Riddick) as the troop’s sergeant.
Maybe it has more gore and “weird-war” elements than your typical WWII movie, but what it lacks is made up for with realism and plenty of other satisfying elements along the way. Think of those pre-code war-horror comics and you’re halfway there. Russell, Adepo, and Ollivier share in some great plot threads, and the store makes room for character arcs, including Magaro (with a great accent) as he deals with a little kid and gets to know him over the course of the story. Even the end credits look great.