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!

22 thoughts on “The Northman (2022)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Only if your fate was to watch it. If your fate is not to watch it then you’ll be fulfilling your fate. But then if your fate was to watch it and you didn’t watch it then you could say that your fate was to escape your fate, so either way there’s no getting around having to play the cards that were dealt by the Weird Sisters.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        Have you ever played the card game Fluxx? The rules for the game keep changing. Maybe if you were using one of those decks crossed with a Magic deck you could snooker the Sisters somehow.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Good question. I really took notice of the single lock of hair that Anya Taylor-Joy had artfully hanging in front of her face in this movie.

      More generally, having grimy, gritty hair in your face seems to be a thing these days. I mentioned how Christian Bale couldn’t keep it out of the way in Out of the Furnace. I just watched The Batman and it was really bugging me the way Robert Pattinson had his greasy locks hanging down over his eyes. Which was a new look for Bruce Wayne to be sure.

      1. Riders of Skaith

        I mean, you can let your braids hang down artfully over your eyes, too. (cough) but seriously, at least when you’re working get that hair out of your face.

        The Batman didn’t bug me, though, since Bruce’s hair wasn’t long enough to be that much trouble, and also because it made sense for that particular iteration of Bruce to just not care enough to do anything about it.

  1. Alex's Review Corner

    Oof. Looks like we’re exact opposites on this one. But I will still concede that it falls into the trap, as many of these types of films do, of showing us a beautiful landscape and then parading it as the world’s best cinematography.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, it’s great days to be a location scout. But I’m starting to find these “ooh” and “ahh” scenes an annoying distraction. Fair enough if you’re making a fantasy film like The Green Knight, but it just seemed to pretty here and in Mary Queen of Scots where it’s like the whole movie is being put on pause so you can admire how gorgeous a spot was that they got to film in.

      1. Alex's Review Corner

        I like films that aren’t all filmed against a green screen. But also almost every film made outdoors now days seems to be 75% wide shots of landscape and people in the background against the large landscape.

  2. fragglerocking

    Haven’t seen this, which is strange as Alexander Skarsgård is one of my go-to movie hotties, especially shirtless, but it does all sound a bit naff so am not in a hurry to see it.

      1. fragglerocking

        First came across him in the Generation Kill series (brilliant work). He was so good in that and didn’t even take his shirt off! Hope he gets better roles than this.

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