Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro, Dominic Applewhite, Bokeem Woodbine
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay by), Mark L. Smith (screenplay by)
Directed by: Julius Avery
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot
Run Time: 1hr, 50 minutes
Is there a genre now of Nazi Monsters? Yes. Everything from Comic Books to TV Shows to Movies has opened the door for genre writers to tackle the additional horrors of what Nazi Germany may have done outside of the actual horrors that have been documented. The reason for this is that it's believable and no villain is better than the Nazis. When JJ Abrams dropped a trailer for his produced film, Overlord, I saw it as Band of Brothers meets Hellboy (minus the Hellboy). Is that what it is? Yes. Is it something we haven't seen before? No.
This could just be me as I have long been fascinated with horrors of WW2 and gravitate towards such stories (whether they be real or fiction). In fact, at one point during the film, I didn't even need to read the subtitles to understand what the German officers were saying. I think I may have a minor in Movie German (thanks to Indiana Jones and Steven Spielberg). So as the plot of Overlord unfolded I was a tad unsurprised and began checking off what remained for the director and actors to accomplish before the film's conclusion.
Overlord begins with a fantastic preliminary invasion of Normandy ("The Night of Nights"). Our characters are in the 101st Airborne, tasked with taking down a communications station and knock out the German air support. Immediately, what stands out is that the white and black soldiers are integrated. Now, without diving into too much history, I found it strange that these men, paratroopers, also had a black sergeant (Bokeem Woodbine). See I can believe in Nazi genetic experiments creating abominations, but integrated paratroopers in WW2? Regardless, my suspension of disbelief was re-instated because after the first 10 minutes of this film, which was absolutely fantastic and on par with anything we saw in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, these paratroopers, black and white, would have been scattered to the wind. So integration would have happened once they hit the ground anyway.
Our cast of characters revolves around Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a good young man who may not be up for what the horrors of war entail. Adepo provides a solid performance carrying the film and allowing us into his WW2 experience. In fact, outside of their stereotypical characters, hot French resistance woman (Mathilde Ollivier), the seasoned corporal (Wyatt Russell), the Jewish kid (Dominic Applewhite), the guy from Brooklyn/ sniper (John Magaro) who wants to kill Hitler and go home, and wannabe ubermensch German (Pilou Asbæk), the actors are fantastic. Now these staples may have a purpose and we know them all, so we can quickly move on with the story. However, this is the main issue with the film, the pacing.
Overlord, at nearly two hours, drags at times and loses its focus of the mission (to knock out the tower). It might seem strange to bring up, however, the seasoned Corporal Ford (Russell) likes to remind Boyce that the mission is the tower and not the German experiments. This opens up two different movies for the audience: the horrors of what the Germans are doing to this village where the radio tower is, as seen through the French resistance woman, Chloe (Ollivier), and the horror movie aspect of the film. The blending of these two should be easy, but the back and forth between Boyce and Ford elongate what should be an easy solution. Take down the communications tower, which is on top of the testing lab, and it's a win-win for everybody.
The horrors here are uneven. Kudos to director Julius Avery for giving us a "less is more" approach to what Boyce and company witness. The imagination can create far worse things than what is actually showing. Yet, when the monsters actually start chasing our heroes, it's nothing we haven't seen before. Who hasn't seen the likes of twitching malformed amalgamation of experiments started and then abandoned? In fact, I thought I could set my watch by how long it took one character to inject himself with the creepy red serum (was that JJ Abrams Red Matter?). Again, it was nothing new.
As far as I could tell, this film had no ties, obvious or not, to JJ Abrams' Cloverfield series. Perhaps it should have? I am not saying that they all have to, but that has been fun to follow and dissect over the past couple of years. I also believe that the timing and place for this film are wrong. A week after Halloween and in theaters seems wrong. This was clearly a horror movie for October and one that would have found a much broader audience on Netflix. It's worth the one time watch, but you'll probably be thinking of other things you have to do over what "horrors" you are witnessing. #AFJ4LIFE