The Northman

The Northman

Epic but boring

Edit: so I learned that this is an adaptation of a Scandinavian legend and an inspiration for Hamlet, elements of which were noticed and seemed a little tired to me at the time. I mistakenly thought it was an original screenplay, so my issues with the character as well as the narrative are not as relevant. I think the film gets a pass there and Eggers should be commended for finding a legend that can be translated for modern audiences and "modern" tastes, mostly intact. Leaving my original review up for the sake of humility and if anyone thinks it being an adaptation of an older work does not exempt it from certain criticisms.


I'm surprised and encouraged that a movie like this exists in 2022, with its commitment to detail and earnestness to the point that viewers are transported to the past, when the real was weird. That said, this film didn't really land for me. I can recognize that it succeeds at being both a full-throated, mystical revenge epic that mainstream audiences will be impressed by while also acknowledging the power of myth in a way that might betray the seriousness with which the audience should view its characters. That angle should make it interesting, but it's actually why the whole endeavor ends up seeming silly and pointless to me. Like, if you're going to question the idea of "fate" through multiple characters and show that the protagonist has been living a fantasy (which is saying something considering how others in this world live), is offered the chance to reject senseless violence and death and have a suitable alternative, and then chooses senseless violence and death, I'm not going to feel sorry for him or think he's cool, I'm going to think he's a dumbass.

Perhaps this film is supposed to evoke a sense of Greek tragedy, where the protagonist is aware of fate yet succumbs despite this. But the film is so perfectly constructed that I find it boring.

Basically I either a) cannot take the film seriously because the protagonist is so misguided and foolish but the film itself is so earnest (nearly to the point of glorifying the foolishness) or b) don't care because for all its earnestness, the narrative itself is not that interesting, dressing and setting aside. But I'm sure looking back on this film years down the road, there will be a lot to love and we'll all be glad something like this exists, when all there is to see in theaters is Marvel movies, Stars Wars, and Jurassic Universe. So perhaps I should appreciate The Northman for all the details making up perfection and its offering to the altar of cinema. This film does remind me of Kurosawa's Shakespeare adapatations so it's nice to see a contemporary film that is epic in scope and mystical and wholly one thing. It also reminds me of Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos), a weird revenge epic that WAS interesting.

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