Daily Archives: October 11, 2022

The Northman (2022)

*. I was intrigued going in. I’m not into Vikings at all, but it seemed like a movie made out of the source legend for Hamlet could have been interesting, along the lines of what The 13th Warrior (not at all as bad a movie as its reputation has it) did for Beowulf. Plus, there was an interesting cast, and Robert Eggers was directing. I thought The Witch was pretty good, and while The Lighthouse was overrated by critics there was still something to it.
*. Alas, nothing interesting came of this. The Northman isn’t just a disappointment, it’s a terrible movie, and watching it was like being slapped in the face with a wet fish. In fact, it’s so bad, so laughably bad, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t even know if I want to begin.
*. The cast? Some interesting choices, but Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman don’t look like they belong here. Alexander Skarsgård, meanwhile, is just big. Amleth has obviously completed the 300 training course and has abs like winter-tire treads and his traps rival those of Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Indeed, they seem so overdeveloped they’re pressing his head down into his chest. Did Vikings really look like this? They do now.
*. The scenery? I’m going to repeat myself here but it’s worth trotting out here again because it’s so much in play: “great photography should be about more than making things that are already beautiful look beautiful” (that’s from my notes on The Revenant). A lot of highly praised epic movies do this today, showing characters riding their horses through pristine valleys that look like they’ve been painted by some fantasy artist but are real locations in New Zealand, Iceland, or (mostly here) Ireland. You can go “ooh!” and “ahh!” at the mountains and streams and grandeur of nature, but it’s just a bunch of calendar shots.
*. Or, as I said in my notes on Valhalla Rising (another Viking warrior flick that looked much the same, and that I liked slightly more than this one): “Does it look pretty? Sure. But as I’ve had occasion to remark (many times) before, I’m tired of empty movies with beautiful cinematography. And could anything be emptier than this?”
*. The fantasy landscapes also undercut any notion that this is somehow a “gritty” or “realistic” look at the Middle Ages, words that basically only mean that there are some scenes that feature buckets of blood and muck. Because who cares how bloody or mucky you get if you can relax afterward and enjoy some nookie in a beautiful Icelandic hot tub, au naturel?

*. The script? It was a hoot. I thought the characters were talking in runes half the time, saying things like “Let my words be whetstones to your biting rage . . .” There’s a lot of bilge like that, at least when people aren’t barking or howling like dogs at each other.
*. Nor is the dialogue the worst of it. Amleth’s plan for getting revenge on his uncle means he has to brand himself and be taken as a slave to his estate in Iceland? That’s the best he could come up with? My mouth fell open when I saw what he was up to. Then he seems to just give himself up to get captured so that he can receive the full Mel Gibson treatment in the woodshed before Odin’s magic ravens come to rescue him? I understand that he’s a guy who really believes in his fate, but this is a script?
*. There wasn’t a minute of all this hooey I could take seriously. Not with Amleth blossoming from a skinny teen to a hulk in the ten or fifteen years he’s in exile while his mom doesn’t age a day. Not with Anya Taylor-Joy’s accent. What was that supposed to even sound like? Not with Amleth jumping into the North Atlantic and breaststroking a couple of miles to shore. Bit chilly! And especially not with Amleth fighting his uncle at the top of an exploding Mount Doom at the end. That’s right, the final swordfight takes place on top of (or in) an erupting volcano! They have to jump over the streams of lava flowing underfoot! It’s like Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Now I would have thought fighting in such an environment kind of hard, you know, just for breathing. But it looks great! And there’s no kick-ass he-man dialogue either, but (and I think I’m transcribing this correctly): Arrgggh! Arrggh! Ah-wooooo! Arrggh!
*. The thing is, trash like this is fine as long as you don’t pitch it so high. But with a cast like this, a huge budget, the latest wunderkind director at the helm, and all sorts of high critical praise, you need to do a lot better than this. I mentioned how I thought Valhalla Rising was a better movie, and I thought Valhalla Rising was bad. Which makes this one a real dog. Ah-woooooooo!