Director Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” knows we’ve been blown out of our seats by every third “Fast & Furious” sequel, not to mention Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” franchise and a certain Mr. Wick
It takes skill, imagination and chutzpah to top those efforts, or just give audiences an experience unlike any other.
The visionary behind “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” checks all those boxes.
His third feature isn’t intellectually dense, nor does it stray beyond narrative archetypes. It’s a series of carefully choreographed gut punches delivered by stars eager to elevate grindhouse cinema.
Alexander Skarsgard is Amleth, a hulking man still mourning the death of his father, Viking King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke, memorable despite modest screen time). That murder, which happened during Amleth’s childhood, consumes part of the first act … and the Viking’s adult life.
The murderous flashback sets the story in motion as well as the vengeful nature of Amleth’s rage.
Then again, anger seeps into every crevice of this dark period, and Eggers delights in showing us just that. Amleth ends up as a slave to his pappy’s killer, who took his late father’s mother (Nicole Kidman) as his bride.
Did we mention the killer is Amleth’s uncle?
That’s enough mental anguish to fill a year’s worth of psychiatric notebooks, but Amleth embraces a simplified coping mechanism.
Kill. And keep killing until justice has been served.
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) April 21, 2022
Eggers’ vision feels like a black and white production at times, with most of the color drained from this unforgiving landscape. It’s marvelous to behold, with gritty production design capturing a culture with little connection to modern mores.
No anachronistic lectures here. Phew.
These are hard people living hard lives, and the experience is both mesmerizing and immersive.
The story, alas, never borrows deep beneath the simple template. Revenge. Death. More death. And the humanity lost in the process.
Again, it’s hardly profound. It’s also undeniably gripping, even during the quieter passages.
Skarsgard isn’t giving a performance as much as competing in a Crossfit-style event. He’s convincing, no doubt, but this is pure adrenaline. The “True Blood” alum convinces us Amleth’s rage could power a small city.
It’s exactly what “The Northman” demands.
Amleth’s romance with a fellow slave (Anya-Taylor Joy) offers something more substantial, but it never fully registers amidst the mayhem.
What Eggers does better than most filmmakers is create a fictional realm that feels fully realized. You won’t be sure if the period details are accurate or the psychological profiles fit the era. It doesn’t matter. Consistency lures us in, and the spell never wavers.
Except, perhaps, when we’re clutching the arm rests for comfort.
HiT or Miss: “The Northman” isn’t for the faint of heart, or anyone seeking a nuanced revenge yarn. Everyone else will find their jaws dropping over and again.