Not since before the pandemic has Hollywood released three films the same week, including The Northman, with an 87% or higher Rotten Tomatoes rating. Although I may be in the vast minority, The Northman doesn’t deserve your movie-going dollars. First, Shakespeare based Hamlet on this Amleth myth. Will did it so much better. “To sleep-perchance to dream,” perchance it was a nightmare, this film best forgotten. Next, do you enjoy beheadings and disembowelments ad nauseum? Finally, there’s little new. Mix in a little Ben-Hur and Gladiator with Vikings and The Sword in the Stone and you’ve seen it all before.
If The Northman is based upon a Scandinavian legend, why is the flick referred to as a “historical” action drama? It seems a stretch to call folklore “history.” While most of the movie is set in the stark, barren countryside of Iceland, filming primarily occurs in the mud of Ireland and Northern Ireland. For those of you disenchanted by the darkness of the recent Batman film, multiply that by a factor of four and add lots of gore.
Referred to as an epic, the story seems pretty light. Uncle kills brother to take throne and queen, son promises revenge. Olga promisingly tells Amleth, “you have the strength to break men’s bones; I have the cunning to breaks their minds.” That sounds like a duo to be feared. Alas, Olga gets little chance to show that cunning. I give The Northman 3.0 Gavels and it receives an 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.9/10 IMDb score.
Injured in battle, King Aurvandill returns to his kingdom advising young son, Amleth, that it will soon be his time to rule. Uncle Fjolnir has other ideas, beheads Aurnvandill and carries off a screaming Queen Gudrun, thinking Amleth is dead. Twenty years later, marauding in the land of the Rus, a priest reminds Amleth of his promise to revenge his father’s death and rescue his mother. Amleth pretends to be a captured slave and slips aboard a ship bound for Iceland. Another slave, Olga, captures his eye and his heart.
The viewer will have no complaints about Alexander Skarsgard (Godzilla vs Kong) as the brooding, hulking Amleth. I do wonder how a young boy could keep a precious silver necklace without someone bigger removing it forcibly. Seeing Anya Taylor-Joy reminds me how much I’d like to see a second season of The Queen’s Gambit. Somehow, everyone else is covered in dirt and ooze and Olga has on lipstick. I also question how Nicole Kidman never ages as Queen Gudrun.
After Fjolnir dethrones Aurvandill, Harald of Norway dethrones Fjolnir. Banished to a poor farm in godforsaken Iceland, how does Fjolnir afford slaves from the land of Rus? Too may beheadings for my taste, let’s see what the critics offer:
“As I think about it, this Hamlet-clone needs something more, like a heart and soul. The Northman has neither. Brutal battles alone do not make an epic. It takes a good story, too.” Reeling Reviews
“A tumultuous, graphically gorgeous entertainment for our time as well as an ineffably somber meditation on our species’ seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of savagery.” Wall Street Journal
“It’s ultimately rather dull and hardly any fun…” Variety
Savagery and no fun, neither a great recipe for a high gavel rating.