Move over Batman. Step aside, Spider-Man. There's a new action epic around and it's not steeped in superhero mythos or quantum tunnels. Instead, it takes place in a very real place, long ago when Vikings ruled the lands - The Northman. Robert Eggers sits in the director's chair for the third time, making his passion piece of cinema that has his previous outings of The VVitch and The Lighthouse looking like Pixar family movies. Through blood-soaked battles and a hint of the supernatural, this tale of vengeance is the adult action thriller everyone has been clamoring for. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!
The Northman is a far cry from Eggers' The VVitch and The Lighthouse. While those two slow burn modestly budgeted films dealt with the psychological horrors of the supernatural and going mad in one's own psyche this new Viking action vehicle is a $90 million straight-forward revenge story is something entirely different. Despite the gore, The Northman will appeal to a wider audience than Eggers' previous films, because of how well he's tailored the characters. And to finally see Alexander Skarsgård play the role he was born to play as a vicious Viking warrior is something genuinely special.
Eggers enlists the help of the novelist and poet Sjón to pen the screenplay here and coming off his most recent film Lamb, it's a match made in heaven that combines the brutality of Viking war and the sheer emotional path of one's grieving family. It's a very simple story and concept and Eggers and Sjón's script keeps itself in the lane, whole adding some of the mythology of the time period that never truly crosses into the absurdity that was Game Of Thrones when it comes to creatures, giants, and zombies. Although The Northman teases elements of this, it never sticks to that mark, instead, it stays grounded with the choice of revenge or happiness.
The Northman follows the Scandanavian named Amleth, who as a little boy awaits his father the King (Ethan Hawke) to return from battle. His mother the Queen (Nicole Kidman) happily awaits his arrival as well. After a coming-of-age ritual that will ensure young Amleth's rise to power down the road, the young boy witnesses his own uncle brutally murder the King and kidnap his mother. The young and scarred Amleth escapes his own murder and the film cuts a couple of decades later where a tall, muscular man-god Viking stands in this young kid's place (now Skarsgård), who is tearing through a village, killing every living man in sight.
Along the way, a witch (Bjork) reminds the now older Amleth of his destiny to either choose the path of revenge or happiness, which is where he runs into a fellow slave Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who captures his mind and heart along their perilous journey. The two look out for each other as they go "undercover" to seek revenge on Amleth's uncle. Through some twists and turns, betrayal, and new friendships - The Northman succeeds in not only telling a tale of revenge, but one of romance, happiness, and loyalty. At the same time, Eggers, who is known for telling fictional tales based on real-life incidents and ancient texts, does an amazing job of revealing what the Scandinavians and Vikings were really like back long ago. Their beliefs, ways of life, romances, and brutal mentality almost seem of current times, which is a bit scary.
Every performance in The Northman is utterly fantastic. It's a mixed bag that crosses into over-the-top territory that can be downright funny and more nuanced and low-key that has a high level of suspense that builds over time. With Skarsgård, the guy can be a quiet mouse perched on a hill that turns into a maniacal killer similar to how Wolverine lets loose in the X-Men films. His emotional turns as relationships turn sour are impressive and his physical prowess is just as magical. That man is a Viking incarnate in this modern age. Kidman is simply wonderful in one of her best roles in years as a woman who only looks out for herself. Her evil deeds make her one of the year's best villains. Anya Taylor-Joy coming back to an Eggers' film is a delight and of course, Hawke and Willem Dafoe are just pitch-perfect.
The Northman is a wild, bloody ride with a lot of heart, romance, and chaos. Eggers has flipped the script and delivered a fantastic action-packed adventure that doesn't have any superheroes in it. His continued use of animals as conduits to magic and the supernatural is still in place and even furthers the fascination of human connection to animals. From Black Phillips the goat to the seagulls, and now with crows and wolves - Eggers still impresses with these otherworldly elements. The Northman is the best Viking movie ever made and perhaps one of the greatest revenge stories ever told. Highest Recommendation!