If you’ve ever watched films like Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge and thought to yourself, damn! This movie is cool and all but if only it has flesh-eating zombie monsters, then Julius Avery’s Overlord will give you… a semi erection. Its premise is simple: A team of American soldiers drop into Nazi-occupied France and are tasked to destroy a radio transmitter atop a church. They join forces with a badass french veterinarian chick who handles a machine gun in a manner that makes us wonder if veterinary school is codename for Black Widow’s Academy of Ass-kicking. Meanwhile, a mad scientist cooks up a bunch of Nazi zombie soldiers in a secret underground lab. So you can bet your fine ass the following happens:
- Badass French chick blows people’s brains off.
- Zombie monsters that get their head smashed so hard, the blood and brain splatter look like a combination of a broken jar of strawberry jam and a wet market garbage bin.
- Evil Nazi general injects THREE zombie serums into his leg to become a half-faced SUPER ZOMBIE.
- American zombie vs Nazi super zombie.
- EXPLOSIONS…. Loads of it!
And no, I’m not sarcastically poking fun at the concept (OK, maybe I am a little, but c’mon, Nazi zombie monsters?) — this movie is fun. The action set pieces are at times unrelentingly ferocious. The panicky opening scene that takes place in a US military aircraft carrying soldiers that are about to be airdropped is enough to convince us that Julius Avery has a bright future ahead of him, if he chooses the right screenplay to work with. It’s a heart-thumper of a sequence, which first starts off as if it’s ‘just another day at work’ (which in the case of these troops is frightening enough as it is) with characters busting each other’s balls and passing around a pack of chewing gum.
But with each passing second, the danger escalates and escalates. Their plane gets shot multiple times and begins to tremble and rock uncontrollably as the tension continues to tighten and increase, intensified by rambunctious sound design. Avery uses shaky cam to evoke a frantic and frenetic atmosphere. We’re right there with the anxious characters twitching about nervously, some of whom puke, all of whom have a look that suggests “I know I signed up for this, BUT I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS SHIT!” It’s a nerve-wracking scene that ends with one of the soldiers in the water, almost suffocating under his own parachute.
Later in the film, there is another thrilling sequence that involves a rapey Nazi general, the French chick, a couple of American soldiers hiding in an attic and a cute little boy with a baseball. Everything else in the film ranges from “rather not bad” to “kinda fun”.
But the right screenplay (by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith), this is not, not one that gets translated to a film that will leave a lasting impression at least. Overlord is a fun film, but it doesn’t have the depth to make you mull over it after. Not that an action movie needs Shakespearean content to be good cinema — The Raid and John Wick come to mind. But there the execution is flawless, the action sequences gruelling and energy draining (by the time the end credits roll, it feels like you just spent the last two hours at the gym doing High Intensity Interval Training) and there are characters we can get behind, embodied by charismatic actors.
Here, the characters are paper thin (and the performances, competent). There is barely any character exploration beyond their basic traits – “emotionless leader” “naive photographer” “nice black guy” “douchey senior”. A lack of character leads to a mostly emotionally void film — you don’t care who lives and who dies — which reduces the stakes significantly. But I do love how Avery and his writers use the creative license this fantasy-esque genre allows to create a film that is woke without announcing itself as a woke film. Racial segregation in the Armed Forces was prevalent in the US military during and before WWII — you won’t find a white man fighting alongside a black man. Here, not only is the black man serving alongside his white brothers, he’s the lead character and biggest hero.
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If you’ve ever watched films like Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge and thought to yourself, "damn! This movie is cool and all but If only it had flesh-eating zombie monsters," then Julius Avery’s Overlord will give you boners for days.