It’s the hours before D-Day during World War II and American paratroopers, led by explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), are sent to destroy a Nazi radio tower behind enemy lines in German-controlled France. Destroying the tower will disrupt Nazi communications and allow air cover for the hundreds of thousands of allied troops coming ashore at Normandy. The plane carrying the paratroops flies into heavy anti-aircraft fire and is coming apart before everyone can jump. A few of the soldiers survive and meet up on the ground: Ford, Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker) and Dawson (Jacob Anderson). Dawson steps on a landmine, reducing their number to four. While walking through the forest to get to town, the Americans run into Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a resident in the village. Unsure if she’s a Nazi sympathizer at first, Chloe quickly proves she is not and houses the Americans in her home with her ailing aunt and little brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). The radio tower is on the grounds of a church with dozens of Nazi troops stationed there. Chloe says there’s more going on at the church besides communications. Nazi doctors are conducting horrible experiments on both the living and the dead, trying to create super soldiers to ensure victory and a thousand-year Reich. Chloe’s aunt was a subject of those experiments and she’s now covered in blisters and her breathing is labored and wet. Commanding the Nazi base is Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), a cruel overseer that uses threats of sending Paul to the church to force sexual favors from Chloe. Sent out to retrieve Tibbet and Chase on a recon mission, Boyce accidently gets inside the Nazi base. There he sees the radio room, but also finds the lab where the experiments are carried out and puts a syringe filled with a reddish fluid in his pocket. He also finds Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), a fellow paratrooper who was captured as soon as he hit the ground. Boyce and Rosenfeld manage to get back to the house and Boyce tells everyone what he’s seen. Ford wants everyone focused on the mission and they are running out of time to bring down the tower. Boyce believes they should destroy the lab as well.
“Overlord” is a bit of revisionist history wrapped up in an exciting action/war/monster movie. It attaches a flight of fancy to an all-too-real moment in one of the darkest periods in modern world history. Quentin Tarantino did something similar with his assassination of Hitler storyline in “Inglorious Basterds.” Produced by JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot, “Overlord” was thought to be a third sequel to “Cloverfield,” but this proved to be just a rumor. What isn’t a rumor is that “Overlord” is a fun, gory, action-filled adventure that as a whole is better than some of its parts.
The story in “Overlord” is fanciful but the most believable thing about the movie. If a classified Defense Department document was released that proved American intelligence had discovered such a Nazi program after the war, would anyone seriously question its veracity? No, they wouldn’t, as the Nazis were an amoral group that would cross any line, defy any border of decency, to further their twisted agenda. There are documented medical experiments conducted at the concentration camps by Dr. Mengele and others that have no merit at all and are best described as atrocities and crimes against humanity. Believing these criminals would take the next steps to try to create undead super soldiers isn’t that big a leap.
The film makes the mistake of giving a mysterious reason for the experiments succeeding: There’s something in the ground of this French village that provides the spark to reanimate corpses. It is never named or explained but is referred to on a couple of occasions. Nazi evil ingenuity and lack of decency are the only reasons needed for the experiments. A magical element or chemical actually takes the Nazis off the hook a bit as any military would likely conduct similar research if they had access to a reanimation elixir.
The film also plays with historical accuracy by putting a couple of African-American soldiers amongst the paratroopers and has an African-American in command, Sgt. Eldson (Bokeem Woodbine), of the mixed-race squad. During most of American history, African-American soldiers were in segregated units. They served together under the command of African-American officers, often in support roles such as truck drivers. Their barracks, training, church attendance, canteens and even marching in parades, were segregated from white soldiers. They were subject to racial epithets and abuse from soldier and officer alike. Why anyone would put their lives at risk to fight for a country that treated them so badly is a mystery to me, but they did fight with honor and distinction. Perhaps “Overlord” would have been a better movie if the entire group of soldiers was African-American and, despite the doubts of the white commanders back in relative safety on a base, the group prevailed and wiped out the Nazis. I understand the desire to present the story in a colorblind way; however, from the moment Boyce appears on screen and doesn’t face racially-based verbal abuse, it took me out of the movie for a time. Even the Nazis don’t make a comment about Boyce. Again, I understand this isn’t a Spike Lee movie, but I think it’s something that should have been acknowledged.
Despite its shortcomings, “Overlord” is a very fun and exciting movie. Any film that kills Nazis is okay by me. I also liked the look of the lab where the experiments were carried out. It looks very medical while also looking very medieval. The overall design of the lab is a mixture of hospital and torture chamber. The monster design is a bit all over the road as we primarily see the experiments’ failures, but near the end of the film, a couple of successes show up. One transformation from dead to undead is spectacular as boils begin popping up, the veins in the arms grow and change color, the eyes turn red and the head snaps back to the point where its laying upside down on the body’s back. There are more details about this transformation that I’ll leave out, but it is an amazing bit of practical and digital special effects. There may be a bit too much chitchat between the protagonists as they debate what they are going to do next. Time seems to be slipping away as they must destroy the radio tower before the invasion begins at 6 am and don’t have a plan until they stumble into one by mistake. Once they begin the mission, the accelerator is pushed to the floor and things don’t slow down until just before the credits roll.
“Overlord” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content. The violence is sometimes graphic and other times mundane. There are shootings with blood spray, beatings that leave faces bloody and, in real life, would lead to broken jaws. Gunshot wounds that leave gaping holes in faces are seen a couple of times. Various bodies show damage ranging from ripped out necks and large holes in torsos. A couple of characters are blow up by explosives. There’s a great deal of gore so if that bothers you, don’t see the movie. There’s a scene where the German officer begins raping Chloe. There’s no nudity but his actions are graphic. There’s a second brief scene of an attempted rape. Foul language is common.
“Overlord” works in the end because everyone hates Nazis (well, almost everyone) and wants to see their plans for world domination fail. It also meshes well with the idea that Germany would, at this time, conduct experiments to create soldiers out of corpses as they had no decency or respect for either the living or the dead. There’s plenty of action, likable characters, a much-hated villain, a cute little kid and the fate of the free world on the line. Despite a few missteps, “Overlord” delivers an enjoyable adventure with copious amounts of core.
“Overlord” gets four stars out of five.
This week’s films run the gamut from the wizarding world to cute orphans to tough widows. I’ll review at least one of the following:
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald—
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