Movie trailers are getting better and better at selling films, even if what the trailer sells isn't entirely embodied in the final product. Take Overlord as an example. The film's trailer promises the audience a rip-roaring hell of a good time, with World War II drama and Nazi zombies to spare. While there's definitely measures of both to be had in director Julius Avery's finished product, the sum total is most assuredly inferior to what was promised in the flick's trailer.
Overlord picks up hours before the D-Day invasion with a unit of paratroopers (Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro) who find themselves behind enemy lines on a special mission. One radio-jamming tower is all that stands between Allied victory and total defeat. As the film's story marches on, the situation surrounding the base that houses the tower starts to prove that achieving that ultimate goal isn't going to be as simple as our characters first thought.
In its earlier phases, Overlord was rumored to be part of the Cloverfield universe, a rumor that was eventually dismissed as false. However, this film does actually share something with the actual Cloverfield franchise, and that's the approach to scripts. It definitely feels like Overlord takes after the series' tradition of overhauling pre-existing scripts to fit into a specific vision. The only problem is this approach doesn't work if the film in question doesn't have a clear vision of whether it wants to be a serious war drama or a more genre-minded thriller.
Director Julius Avery's finished product for Overlord, coming from a script initially written by Billy Ray and later reworked by Mark L. Smith, feels like an extremely compromised whole with some interesting pieces thrown into the mix. What's left is a story that's so disjointed that everything in between the more memorable moments is a rote war-time thriller.
Part of the problem with Overlord is that the film takes so long to get started. That's most noticeable when it comes to the more zombie-enhanced part of the film. The first act seems to blaze by, using all the shorthand in the world to lay down a basic foundation to a World War II drama. By time the film's second act hits, the pacing slows down to a crawl, both jarring the audience out of the momentum that Overlord seemed to possess, and boring them to tears with underdeveloped characters.
I basically found myself rooting against the Nazis because they're Nazis, which isn't hard. But after films like Inglorious Basterds used Nazis as not only obvious villains but also intriguing characters with something to say, it's hard to go back to this sort of character. Though, that's not saying the heroes have it any better in that respect, as all of our GIs are pretty archetypical as well. While the actors embodying such roles do lend their own verve and flavor to portraying them, they're still pretty two dimensional.
All of these problems ultimately run counter to the way Overlord was sold. It's hard to reconcile the first two acts of this film with the sci-fi action romp promised in the trailers, and sold with an AC/DC needle drop. We get peeks at monsters, and the ultimate purpose of what's going on in the Nazi laboratories, but it's never integrated into the story well enough to feel like it was properly written in the first time around.
Still, during the moments that Overlord chooses to lean into its sci-fi / horror / action cocktail can be quite exciting. In particular, the sparse set pieces involving the previously-mentioned experiments help keep the audience awake for those first two acts. Not to mention, by time the film shifts gears to an action-packed finale in the third act, we get to see some of the good stuff we were promised before entering the theater. It's just a damned shame we had to sit through what came before it to get there.
Overlord had the potential to be both an action-packed World War II thriller and a creature feature to rival Call of Duty's most outlandish revisionist history adventures. There are definitely style points to be awarded for retro credits, like shooting the film with a look and feel of an older World War II movie, and even using actual film to give Overlord the ultimate authenticity of old Hollywood. What the film gets right is ultimately outweighed by what it gets wrong, as the fun and exciting parts are equally exciting and frustrating to watch. To see a premise as exciting as the one Overlord was built and sold on wasted in such a tremendous fashion just isn't reich.
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