Overlord review: B-movie fun, but not as good as a video game

Stick with Wolfenstein.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read
Paramount Pictures

The great thing about genre mash-ups is you can throw in cliches from not one but two genres. What a bonus!

Take Overlord, in theatres worldwide now. Produced by JJ Abrams and directed by Julius Avery, it crunches together World War II military action with zombie horror. So not only does it give us a wounded soldier squeaking, "Is it bad, Ed? Is it bad?" as his buddies frantically fuss over a gaping hole in his chest, but then seconds later it hits us with the ol' apparently-dead-guy-sitting-bolt-upright jump scare. Two cliches for the price of one!

But hey, who are we to quibble? It's Friday night, you need to put your Xbox controller down for a minute to eat your pizza, so throw on Overlord. You can't go wrong with paratroopers mowing down zombies with tommy guns and flamethrowers, right? All the vicarious tough-guy kicks of a righteous WW2 shoot-'em-up with the gleefully visceral gore of a horror movie.

Well, yes and no.


Wyatt Russell takes cover in Overlord.

Peter Mountain

Overlord opens with a platoon of paratroopers joining the legions of Allied soldiers and sailors crossing the channel to retake Occupied Europe from the Nazi hordes on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Before you know it, we're thrown headlong into a first-person plunge from the plane, spiralling through the fiery wreckage of disintegrating DC-3s and blooms of sphincter-rattling anti-aircraft fire. It's a solidly visceral opening promising thrills and scares to come.

Hitting the ground, gentle GI Jovan Adepo and scarred and scowling Wyatt Russell lead the ragtag remnants of their squad to a gothic tower looming gothicly over a sleepy French hamlet, where terrified villagers keep disappearing into a secret lab full of Nazi scientists. When they bump into feisty fille Mathilde Ollivier, the stage is set for our band of brothers to take the fight to the undead baddies. 

Think of it as The Longest Day meets Day of the Dead. Surviving Private Ryan. Or just any of the million video games that pit corps against corpses.


Mathilde Ollivier faces Nazi monsters in Overlord.

Peter Mountain

The trouble is, Overlord just isn't demented enough. This is a zombie movie that promises an army of Nazi super-soldier monstrosities putting the ick into Reich, but lacks either the budget or the imagination to deliver. We barely spend any time in the secret lab or properly meet the mad scientist, instead spending most of the movie holed up in an attic with the GIs debating what to do. You want crazy monsters, imaginatively gory set pieces and buckets of blood. But you'd get more of that stuff from a single episode of The Walking Dead.

It's not good when the weirdest thing about your Nazi zombie movie is that it was penned by an Oscar-nominated scribe -- Billy Ray, who wrote Captain Phillips -- or that no-one thought to put any actual zombies in. Seriously, count the number of zombies that actually do anything. Count the number of people they kill. After it's over, try and remember any of the set pieces.

Still, it's noisy, trashy and silly enough to entertain. There's a fun American Werewolf in London homage and Pilou Asbæk, as the chief Nazi nasty, gives it some gusto under ever-increasing layers of gory CG and make-up. Forgettable Friday night fare, this pulp action-horror hybrid at least knows how dumb it is. But honestly, it's more fun to fire up Call of Duty or Wolfenstein or whatever and blast those undead squareheads for yourself.

Overlord parachuted into theatres in the UK on 7 November and the US on 9 November.

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