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THE NORTHMAN is a Visually Stunning, Violent Revenge Tale That’s a Tad Too Familiar [REVIEW]

The Northman is a violent and haunting revenge tale that envelopes you in a richly-detailed Viking world. Based on a medieval Scandinavian legend that also inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman follows a warrior prince, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), on his quest to avenge his slain father. The tale is a familiar one, but The Northman manages to use its brutal action, striking visuals, and an almost otherworldly tone to stand apart.

This film is only the third feature from director Robert Eggers, following The Witch and The Lighthouse, and he’s again delivered an engrossing experience. The Northman is visually stunning, with incredible cinematography, landscapes, sets, lighting, music, costumes–all of it works to create the look and feel of this beautiful but dangerous world. I’m not well-versed enough to know how historically accurate it all is, but the stylistic choices made are perfect.

The Northman’s script is co-written by Eggers and Sjón, a Icelandic writer who frequently collaborates with Björk (who also appears in the film as a seeress). The story itself is fairly straightforward, and again, familiar. As a result, the characters come across a little flat, and really aren’t developed beyond what’s necessary for the story. Some pacing issues also don’t help, and it leads to The Northman dragging a bit in the middle. That said, The Northman is by no means a bad story, it’s just a simple one, and very much in the vein of Conan the Barbarian or The 13th Warrior–thin on plot, but big on ambiance.

Bjork in The Northman

Much of The Nothman’s great atmosphere comes from how it weaves in the myths and magic of the Norse gods. There’s a supernatural vibe that permeates the movie, allowing for Amleth to have experiences that may or may not be real. It’s with these moments that The Northman really leans into the mythology, and visions of Valkyries or Valhalla give the film even more visual splendor.

The performances from the cast as a whole are good, with Nicole Kidman being the stand out as Queen Gudrún, Amleth’s mother, a deceptively simple character who Kidman really brings to life. Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Dafoe also turn in good performances, even if their parts are small or, in Taylor-Joy’s case, undeveloped. In the starring role, Skarsgård is better here than he was in The Legend of Tarzan, but it’s his physicality that is most memorable. And it’s not just that he had to become even more buff than he already was for this movie, it’s his commitment to such a physically demanding role.

Alexander Skarsgard in The Northman

The brutal and bloody action is the big selling point of The Northman, and the film absolutely delivers. The fight scenes are tough and dirty, at times gruesome, and always with the intensity expected of a movie that hires Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson – aka The Mountain from Game of Thrones. The action scenes in The Northman are when the movie is at its best, with Skarsgård perfectly embodying Amleth’s rage and anguish.

The Northman is a visual feast with great action and strong performances. It’s also a bit of bore at times, and it could have benefited from either having the runtime trimmed or giving characters more to do with its length. As it stands, though, The Northman is a good time at the theater, delivering a bloody tale of revenge steeped in Viking myth and lore.

rating 4

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