It’s the evening of June 5, 1944, when a small battalion of American soldiers hurtles out of a fiery cargo plane over the Normandy coast. That explosive opening sequence introduces both “Overlord” and the vision of its director, Julius Avery, with quite a bang. These killer first five minutes signal that we’re in for a wild ride and a dark, intense and bloody take on a World War II flick. For anyone who ever wished “Saving Private Ryan” were more of a B-movie splatterfest, “Overlord” is the movie for you.
Our guide on the journey is a nervous newbie private named Boyce (Jovan Adepo), who is all wide eyes and empathy and wouldn’t even kill a mouse. He’s surrounded by standard-issue WWII movie types: Ford (Wyatt Russell, never better), a grizzled, scarred explosives expert who’s seen some things; the fast-talking Tibbet (John Magaro), whose bark is worse than his bite; and swaggering Sgt. Rensin (Bokeem Woodbine), who informs the boys of their mission to take out a Nazi radio jammer on a tower so planes can guide American ships to victory on D-day.
Only a few make it through the crash landing, and the GIs have soon taken over the home of a headstrong young Frenchwoman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). She’s harboring her brother, Paul (Gianny Taufer), and a sick aunt while enduring the affections of Nazi commander Wafner (Pilou Asbæk). Although the mission is to take down the tower, it soon becomes clear that there are far more horrors going on behind the walls of the Nazi command center, and moral compass Boyce demands something be done about it.
Written by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, “Overlord” takes its cues from Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” using prestige war flick trappings to vandalize history books with a wild rewriting. It’s gory, utopian fan fiction that imagines, “What if the night before D-day, a bunch of black and Jewish American soldiers fought off Nazi zombies?” Avery has sprinkled references to classic Universal monster movies, ’80s action-horror flicks like “The Thing” (which starred Russell’s dad, Kurt) and even shades of Gore Verbinski’s recent Germanic sicko epic “A Cure for Wellness,” with all the damp underground labs and hideous experimentation. Turn that up to 11, and you have the loud, jarring and brutally violent “Overlord.”
“Overlord” opens with Sarge declaring that Nazis are “rotten” and that they “want to destroy anything good in this world.” We shouldn’t need the reminder, but sadly, some seem to have missed this history lesson. There’s no question about where “Overlord” comes down on its villains — there’s no banality of evil here, just pure, hubristic evil-evil. Think the Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” only a lot scarier.
These Nazis are rapists and torturers and killers so caught up in their own delusions of absolute domination that they underestimate the power of a scrappy, brave, resourceful band of Americans willing to stand up to them. It is significant that in this vision of revisionist revenge, the ones who prevail against the Nazis are those who would be marginalized and targeted by them — along with their allies. For all its bloody cacophony, “Overlord” doesn’t lose sight of its heroes.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: R, for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: In general release