Movie Review: The Northman

A few things before I get to reviewing the movie. I think Robert Eggers is the most overrated director working today. I’ve yet to meet another movie critic that doesn’t sing his praises, and while I found a few things interesting in his first two movies The Witch and The Lighthouse, both were ultimately disappointing. Now he’s been given a $100 million budget, and an incredible cast that includes a beefed up Alexander Skarsgard and his star from The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit, and my favorite thing she’s done – Thoroughbreds). Eggers also used his Lighthouse star Willem Dafoe to play Heimir the Fool (a jester type character but also a shaman or something like that). Singer Bjork plays the mystical Seeress (and a lot of the movie is shot in her homeland of Iceland). Oh, and Oscar nominees Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke aren’t chopped liver. And, you throw in terrific Danish actor Claes Bang and…this should be a banger. Instead, it’s a ponderous and gruesome experience that lasted for two hours and 15 minutes (unfortunately, this was made well before Pete Davidson did his song about the public wanting shorter movies).

This is a Nordic saga, that’s like Hamlet with a dash of Viking mythology. It feels like Game of Thrones on steroids.

Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard is the adult version) watched as his jealous uncle (Claes Bang) killed his dad, the King (Ethan Hawke). He then carried off his screaming mom (Nicole Kidman) to take her as his bride. 

We then see Amleth years later working with a crew of marauders that go into villages and rape and plunder, and you wonder…how are we ever going to root for Amleth to get his revenge? Is he really all that different from his uncle?

All the mythical mumbo jumbo had me rolling my eyes. The shaman scene involving Dafoe, who makes his disciples fart or burp, reminded me of one of Jim Morrison’s drug trips in The Doors movie.

Amleth cuts off his hair and branded himself, so he can pass off as a slave and be sent to the town where his uncle now resides. Of course, he’s treated like crap, but we know it won’t be long before he starts kicking butt and taking names. I should have guessed there’d be a special sword needed to exact revenge. That means more mumbo jumbo scenes of him acquiring this sword and its magical powers. We then get to watch as limbs are lopped off, decapitations, and one particularly gory scene where we see a person have their guts slide right out of them. At that point, I heard my wife audibly gap. And not once do we get any moments of levity, or moments we can reflect on certain characters or their stories. It has no soul. It’s just fight scene after fight scene, like some violent video game. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t get some well choreographed fight scenes, interesting tracking shots, and great scenery. I also thought the score was fun, with throat singing, bagpipes, and didgeridoos. I thought Eggers also did a great job with the score and sounds in The Lighthouse, but dear god, this guy needs to have better stories in his films. Otherwise, all we have is a nicely shot, big mess.

1 star out of 5.

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