As I finally sat down to watch the latest Viking saga, The Northman, I was expecting a commercial adventure movie with great visuals. Something like John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior but more realistic and grittier. And I do have to admit that the trailers and all the hype pointed in this direction. So, when our raiders started talking like they ran from a Shakespeare’s play, I knew that something was up. In hindsight, all the signs were there but I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention. Or I simply didn’t care. And there are levels to this shit, some of which we will have to go through.
First of all, the amount of simmering and brooding testosterone in The Northman is off the charts. I keep waiting for someone to cut out Amleth and start splicing him into various real-life events or other movies. And yes, our lead character’s name is Amleth as the movie is loosely based on an old Norse legend about this guy. Hell, even Shakespeare wrote Hamlet based on his exploits. Now, what really happened, I do not know. What I do know is that they tried to make a darker and less fun Game of Thrones and succeeded. The cinematography along with costumes, weapons, vistas, and sets were stunning. I liked the natural lighting and the way the scenes felt so small in nature, and thus very personal.
Moving on, what follows is your classical macho hero’s journey with a lot of dirt and grunting. Now, I will defend most of the artistic choices here along with the atmosphere. And there’s no doubt that Robert Eggers is an incredibly talented and skilled director. The VVitch is a masterpiece and The Lighthouse is a refreshing and authentic psychological horror movie. However, you can be talented all you want when you don’t have a good story. No amount of acrobatics can save you then. And the story here is as simplistic as it is predictable, completely destroying all of the tension right from the start.
We all knew what was going to happen and eventually, it did happen. The same goes for the characters and dialogues that were mediocre at best. Although we have to take into account that he’s been working within the framework of the legend and Norse history. It’s not how you said it, it’s the way you said, to be more precise. The Last Duel, is a historic epic with even more constraints and details which turned out pretty good. I also want to add that the writer for this movie was Sjón, so yes, a man that goes just by Sjón and the man behind last year’s oddity Lamb. Plus, this was Eggers’s first big movie and this meant a lot of pressure from the studio to deliver a commercial product. I really don’t know what they were thinking with this combination.
The Northman opens with this right of passage story very similar to other transitions into adulthood ceremonies. For example, Native Americans or First Nations or whatever still very racist and condescending title is in use today, have almost exactly the same challenges. Actually, if you dig around this subject a bit you will find essays and YouTube videos about how this is really good for young boys. To “wean them off” their mother’s love and “make them independent”. Some think that if you go to the military or work a special type of job will also accomplish the same goal. Get married, have children, fucking marry and procreate, and so on, and so on. Sniff sniff.
Do you really think that if you’re trapped in a cave with two half-naked guys and you roar a bit, that will make a man out of you? And I do realize that these practices were common in the past and this is a movie about that period. I see their point here if they were going for “this is all he has ever known so he had to behave in a certain way”. Or at least I hope they were going for that. And I do not have anything against these types of movies, hell, Predator is even more macho and I love every second of it. However, what I felt here was a bit of adoration although, as I previously mentioned, I am biased when it comes to these things.
This is where you start realizing that you’re going to be laughing a lot while watching The Northman. Especially since you can guess what’s going to happen. The scenes feel incredibly static and at times even cartoonish. Like they had the storyboard but didn’t know what to do with it. All of this makes the movie feel like a pretentious over-the-top mess. A clash between art and masculinity with hilarious consequences. The best scene and the one you’ve probably seen in the trailer is the attack on the village. Although it’s very similar to a lot of Game of Thrones raids it’s still nowhere near the levels set by The 13 Assassins. And I guess the Draugr fight was also good bringing back fond Skyrim memories.
My favorite scene in the movie though is the one when Amleth disguises himself as a Slav slave and swims to the boat carrying other slaves. The combination of quick cuts, lack of exposition and the brooding nature of the character had me rolling on the bed laughing. Our brave hero then becomes a carpet cleaner with abs and seduction skills of a caveman. These scenes are also enhanced by the above-mentioned quick cuts. Just remember that awesome line from Shark Attack 3 when a different kind of a hero says and I quote: “What do you say I take you home and eat your pussy?”. One hard cut later and they’re in the shower having sex.
What follows is more hilarity with the emphasis on how things were brutal back then. This makes it perfect for trashing, especially if you gather some friends and start cracking jokes. Oh my god, how things were unforgiving and fucked up back then! It’s okay to explain that once but not okay to keep shoving it in your face. Apocalypto was an infinitely better movie with its very balanced approach. Now, the cast here did a terrific job and they’re not to blame for the final outcome. A final outcome that’s quite messy, boring, and simply too long. Even if the final battle is just as ridiculous and unrealistic as you would imagine it to be.
I mean you go through all that trouble of showing us how difficult life was back then only to have our homeboy Amleth building fucking human centipede ornaments. Now, I have no doubt that the representation of Viking life is accurate but be consistent with something for fuck’s sake. Although, I forget that we have this brooding atmosphere so that’s something. I bet when you finish it you will feel like you accomplished something after undergoing a difficult journey not too different from the one our hero here undertook.
Finally, I do want to say that some people will truly enjoy The Northman. If you’re able to let go and appreciate it as a different take on a classic Viking story, you will have a good time. I was not in such a mood and as cynical as I am, simply could not resist trashing it. Plus, we’ve seen all of these motives explored in much better movies. And there were a lot of them. Hell, Conan features almost the same story, a lead actor who barely speaks English, and a lot of other issues but it’s still way more fun than this one.
This is a minimalist story told in a minimalist way. It’s not the movie many were expecting, me included, but at least it’s edgy and I can respect that. They had the balls to do something different even if it meant failing. And there aren’t a lot of people doing those things nowadays. And do check out Erik The Viking to recover from this experience.
Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Sjón, Robert Eggers
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe
Fun Facts: Several historians were consulted in order to make sure that everything about Norse culture is accurately represented.