We’ve been hearing for some time now that Activision wants to get into the movie business with its Call of Duty franchise, though no plans have been solidified yet. And although Bethesda hasn’t said anything, Wolfenstein would be an ideal fit for the big-screen as well, especially with a “hard R” rating. But in the meantime, Overlord is just the sort of film that’ll fit the bill, a B-grade Nazi horror film with a whole lot of bloodshed and great use of war themes.
Now, the film didn’t exactly do boffo box-office business this weekend, as it only made just over $10 million against Illumination Studios’ The Grinch, which scored nearly seven times that amount. But that shouldn’t stop you from checking the movie out, especially if you live and breathe the kind of action you’d expect from a given Call of Duty Zombies scenario. This is as close as you’ll get to that material until official movies based on the franchises are made.
The film follows a group of soldiers that are landing within Germany on the eve of D-Day, with a near-suicidal mission of taking out a radio tower so that communications can be clear as day when the soldiers storm the beach. But upon landing in a nearby small town, the small group of soldiers, which include Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), Tibbet (John Magaro) and Morton Chase (Iain De Caestecker), find themselves overwhelmed by enemy forces. They remain in hiding with the help of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a local town girl who’s not fond of the Nazi invasion.
It’s in the midst of this plot that the soldiers find out that the Nazis are up to much more than they realize. Not only are they using the radio station to their advantage, but also a lab. And in this lab, they’ve got a number of experiments going on, using some kind of strange serum cooked up by Dr. Schmidt. It’s here that the team must try to go through with their mission, despite what horrors may be waiting inside.
The film was produced by J.J. Abrams, alongside Lindsey Weber; and directed by Julius Avery, who likes to use occasional long takes in the style of Abrams. And that touch really pays off here, not only for the horror themes in play, but also the war theme in general. Overlord actually looks like an authentic World War II-themed movie to start, as the soldiers come out of planes that are just about ready to explode from mortar fire, then find themselves hiding from Nazi troopers on the ground.
But just when you think it gets too settled into its war themes, along come the zombies. And Overlord provides a neat twist. Instead of just going through the motions like most horror movies, it takes a slow build, introducing you to the factors at play before bringing on both barrels. And it provides an interesting twist with Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), the main baddie in the film who goes through a few...changes. No sense spoiling it here.
The film has a terrific tone that keeps up throughout, before building up to an explosive finale that looks like something right in line with what B.J. Blazkowicz would do -- right down to the final seconds. It’s well filmed and quite exciting, with the payoff that a lot of fans have been waiting. In fact, the only thing that kind of throws it off is with the somewhat loud rap theme playing during the closing credits. But by then, the impact has definitely settled in.
Not to mention the special effects. The creatures featured in Overlord look straight-up ripped out of the Wolfenstein book, right down to an unspeakable creature that has a head-on fight with Chloe at one point. You can tell that Abrams and company may have been influenced by B.J.’s adventures at one point -- or one of Treyarch’s games, for sure.
The performances are excellent, even though you won’t find any AAA stars here. Adepo and Ollivier deliver the best with their characters, although Magaro provides a great amount of comic relief (his relationship with Chloe’s younger brother is funny at times) and Russell makes for a good, no-nonsense soldier. And Asbaek piles on the evil as Wafner, especially later on in the film.
We may not be getting Call of Duty or Wolfenstein on the big-screen for a while (unless, you know, surprise announcement or something), so if that’s what you’re looking for in a movie, Overlord certainly doesn’t disappoint. It takes a while to build, but then goes frenzied on its audience with scares, while throwing in some good action and laughs for good measure. I can’t help but think this film would’ve fared better releasing last month instead of now, catching more of the Halloween -- or post-Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 -- crowd at a better time. We’ll never know now. But you still have time to catch this and enjoy it in theaters.
Also, that facial makeup on Wafner. Yeeeeesh.