The Northman review
Last week, the movie world was burdened by the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – a transparent money-grabber without a good enough story to hide behind. It makes you wonder if Hollywood is worth all the repetitive formulas, used to recycle their own wealth. But the brilliance of The Northman reminds you that elevated budgets don’t have to predicate bad movies.
Cult horror filmmaker Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) reaches into the mainstream with his new Viking revenge drama, inspired by the Norse saga of Amleth (which also inspired Hamlet). But he doesn’t fall into the same traps as many indie directors who’ve turned to bigger movies, resuming his signature style – as strong and powerful as the erupting volcano that opens the film. It’s bold, bloody and foul: qualities to which Hollywood could and should aspire.
Set in 10th-century Iceland, Eggers plunges you immediately into this muddied world of helmets, swords and shields. Robert Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough’s booming soundtrack marries perfectly with the vast and gritty detail of Jarin Blaschke's cinematography.
It’s a classic setup: King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) is murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), leaving Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) to marry him. The rightful heir, Amleth, escapes in exile, swearing world-shaking revenge. That boy grows into an impossibly ripped Alexander Skarsgard many years later. Amleth is now a mighty warrior who catches soaring spears and embodies a wolf when fighting. He finds the perfect time to enact his vengeance.
He's soon joined by the bright and blonde Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga of the Birch Forest, a white witch, and dives into a dream-like daze of brutal Norse mythology. The film falls into unfavourable machismo. The female performances are given their due, but their characters only exist to aid the strong men around them. These men constantly scream and screw and fight and bite, which is often hard to take seriously – even despite the historical accuracy that Eggers and his Icelandic co-writer Sjon implement.
The emotional weight of revenge topples under that irritating hyper-masculinity. But The Northman is still a madly absorbing and cinematically astounding medieval epic that never, ever loosens its stranglehold.