Film & TV

J. J. Abrams’ “Overlord” Surprises as a Superb B-Movie

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Contrary to its advertising, “Overlord” (released nationally Nov. 9), isn’t a traditional zombie movie, but a thrilling historical horror action flick pulled straight out of a video game.  

Directed by Julius Avery (“Son of a Gun”) and written by Billy Ray, who also wrote “Hunger Games” (2012) and the Oscar-nominated “Captain Phillips” (2013), “Overlord” was produced by well-known science fiction maestro J.J. Abrams (“Mission Impossible Fallout”).

 “Overlord” is set during the final years of World War 2 and tells the story of a group of American paratroopers dropping behind enemy lines during the invasion of Normandy to destroy a critical Nazi radio tower. Their plane gets shot down in the gripping opening scene and not all of the passengers make it out alive.

The survivors of the crash regroup with the help of a French resistance fighter named Chloe, who is captivatingly played by Mathilde Ollivier. They discover they jumped into more than they bargained for when the team discovers that the Nazis are using the town’s church for twisted scientific research.

During an interview with The Phoenix, star Wyatt Russell (Corporal Ford) discussed the joy of working under one of Hollywood’s top minds. Wyatt said while Abrams didn’t have a large on-set presence, there was a certain level of weight that went with a production with Abrams’ name on the poster. 

However, the movie isn’t perfect. “Overlord” has bland writing and falls into some predictable war movie cliches — an overambitious soldier from Brooklyn who wants to personally take down Hitler, a hardened commander and a fresh recruit seeing combat for the first time.  

Russell told The Phoenix “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) is the greatest war movie ever made, but “Overlord” is a movie he hopes “[people] and their friends go to see for fun.”

The movie isn’t a character study, and the writing serves its purpose. The plot moves along at a brisk pace and the film isn’t weighed down by overly complicated writing, even if the first hour is a replay of “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan.”

Despite the below-average script, “Overlord” is a surprisingly enjoyable movie. Every aspect of the movie is polished, including Russell and Jovan Adepo (“Fences”) who both turn in above-average performances. 

Adepo is believable as newly minted Private Boyes, while Russell shows a bit of range with his portrayal of Corporal Ford, the ill-fated mission commander. Pilou Asbæk, who audiences might recognize as Euron Greyjoy from “Game of Thrones,” is incredible as the villainous and calculatingly evil Nazi captain. He steals almost every scene he’s in and comes across as a true believer of the Nazi cause.

“Overlord” is best seen in a Dolby theater. The sound design is epic and emerses audiences in the world of the film. The experience is more authentic than a standard movie because theatergoers are shaken by every gunshot and explosion they see on-screen. 

The film’s visual effects are exceptional. The Nazi creatures are the film’s main source of terror — terrifying and startlingly realistic. The explosions are gorgeous and don’t seem cartoonishly large or unrealistic as in other recent action films. 

The sets are beautiful and add another layer to the film, especially the laboratory sequences toward the tail end of the movie. The laboratory is the physical embodiment of the Nazi war machine complete with diabolical machines and every conceivable torture device, which gives the characters within the film something to be afraid of when they realize how far the Nazis are willing to go to achieve their goals. 

According to Russell, almost every effect was practical and only a  few computer-generated images were used, with the exception of the opening scene.

While the film’s subject matter could relate to the country’s current political situation, which has seen the return of neo-nazism, according to the Chicago Tribune, Russell said the movie isn’t connected because “the Nazis have been the best bad guys since 1936.”

“Overlord” likely won’t be on any best picture shortlists or win any  major awards, but it isn’t meant to. It’s meant to be a fun and enjoyable science fiction movie, and it accomplishes that.

 “Overlord” is rated R and playing in theaters nationwide. 

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