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The Northman | movie review

Bloody, brutal, boring.

 

Movie summary: An action-filled epic that follows a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father's murder. (IMDb)


Putting this post together, I found myself disagreeing with the summary above as I don't think there's anything particular 'epic' about The Northman at all - if anything, it's a very violent, very blood family squabble and that's about it. Tapping into elements of Norse mythology aren't enough to raise the central story to the heights of being considered 'epic'.


Plus, epics aren't really supposed to drag like this - it takes about half a day to get through the Lord of the Rings trilogy in one go and I'd infinitely prefer to watch those three movies over and over again before I put myself through this single movie even just once more. There was one moment where I rolled my eyes as the main character, Alexander Skarsgård's Amleth, deliberately chooses to drag things out.


So how bad does it get? At least half a dozen people walked out before the climax rolled around and I really couldn't blame them, as I would've probably done the same if I hadn't been with friends - plus that lingering hope that maybe the finale could elevate what I'd seen up to that point. I should also point out that when they walked out were during quieter scenes, so I'm not sure it was down to the blood and violence.


There's also a weird mishmash here of trying to be as historically-accurate as possible - to the point of overly-long ceremonies that I'm sure white supremacists will happily pick to recreate - while also including aspects of Norse mythology such as the Norns, a Valkyrie and also the apparent intervention of Odinn Allfather himself through the actions of ravens helping Amleth escape imprisonment at one point.


As a result, it's difficult to judge whether you should be taking The Northman seriously or treating it as a fantasy, with it ultimately failing to satisfy as either. I do respect the effort gone into making sure Norse traditions were shown as detailed as they are, plus the visuals are often outstanding, but this really does feel like a movie where the world-building received the most attention to the detriment of the characters and story.


Regarding the characters, there's no-one to really connect to here thanks to them being unlikeable, unrelatable, having some fantastical elements to them or a mixture of all those things. It all feels very machine-like, as if an AI was tasked with coming up with a story about Vikings and, being a machine, it didn't give any thought to making the people feel like human beings.


Even the inciting incident, the murder of Amleth's father, is completely lacking in emotion or any real sense of drama and more like a base requirement of setting up the revenge plot. The culture depicted may well be accurate, but it's so alien that you just don't care when the murder happens because... the movie gives you no reason to care beyond basic human empathy for a child seeing their parent killed.


It's certainly not helped by the entire revenge plot being undercut later on as Amleth finds out why it happened , making what you've had to sit through feel not just boring, but also retroactively pointless - and it makes Amleth even less likeable thanks to his own murderous actions from that point on too. It's certainly an interesting creative choice to have a story about horrible people being horrible to each other and hoping audiences will give any kind of a shit about them.


As I've said, I do like how the movie looks a lot, and I 100% approve of the desire to be as historically-accurate as possible, but those should be elements used to enhance a story and not prop it up, which I feel is very much the case with The Northman. Add in the fact that I imagine a lot of white supremacists (who have already tried to claim so much of an affinity with Norse mythology) will absolutely love the bloody, violent, 'manly' behaviour on display and I don't think I could really recommend the movie with any sincerity.


The Northman is a gorgeous movie that is a dull slog to actually get through. All the building blocks are there for something great, but the creative choices made with them, including making no-one relatable or likeable at all, means there's nothing to really draw you into the movie. I do appreciate the intention of historical accuracy in terms of the world, but there needs to be more to a story than that.

[3/10 - Poor]

 

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