The Northman is a Viking revenge epic that deftly blends fantasy, war, and horror.
The Northman is a Viking revenge epic that deftly blends fantasy, war, and horror. This film is what you get when a visionary director like Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) is granted an enormous budget usually reserved for superhero movies. He is allowed complete creative control. It has the scope of an epic summer blockbuster without losing a hint of Eggers’ distinctive style.
Emmy Winner Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a young prince betrayed by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Academy Award Nominee Ethan Hawke plays Amleth’s father, King Aurvandill War-Raven. Amleth watches his uncle slay his father and abduct his mother, Queen Gudrún (played by Academy Award Winner Nicole Kidman). The young Amleth barely escapes with his life, chanting his grim mantra that would become his sole reason for being: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.”
The would-be warrior prince embarks on a ruthless quest for vengeance. Olga joins him in his travels, a sorceress played by Golden Globe Winner Anya Taylor-Joy. As gorgeous as it is grisly, the film dares you to look away. The battle scenes consist of long, continuous shots reminiscent of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s masterpiece The Revenant. The film alternates between full color and black-and-white, which should be familiar to fans of Eggers’ previous film, the vastly underrated The Lighthouse.
The Icelandic myth of Amleth’s journey for revenge inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The Northman brilliantly depicts the mysticism of Norse mythology in all its violent imagery. Musician Björk makes an appearance as an eyeless witch whose prophecy guides Amleth on his voyage. The inimitable Willem Dafoe, star of Egger’s aforementioned The Lighthouse, also makes a brief appearance as Heimer the Jester.
The Northman is a statement against toxic masculinity and revenge. Amleth’s uncle Fjölnir’s (Claes Bang) brutal betrayal of his brother in a quest for power has set Amleth on a hunt for revenge that has consumed his entire life. One area where The Northman falls short is character development. Olga’s character doesn’t have much depth beyond being Amleth’s beautiful female companion. Similarly, most of Amleth’s victims are one-dimensional. There are a few twists and turns, but mainly the story doesn’t rise above being a straightforward revenge epic.
I give The Northman 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is an unique masterpiece that concludes with a vicious swordfight at the foot of an active volcano, not unlike The Revenge of the Sith.