syvology’s review published on Letterboxd:
I never could’ve predicted I’d dislike this even more than The Lighthouse, but wow this did not work for me. I was disengaged from start to finish, grappling first with its painfully familiar premise and oddly stilted action choreography; then with its flat characters and embarrassing dialogue; and finally with its incoherent thematic convulsions. It’s the kind of movie you spend the entire runtime waiting for that twist, that bang, that sudden moment when a film’s reason for being clicks into place—but it never comes.
Willem Dafoe and Björk are called in to do their dance, both of which are entertaining enough, but Ethan Hawke provided the only standout performance IMO. Alexander Skarsgård is a chore to watch, especially after he inexplicably gets a beard trim and haircut halfway through the movie.
Here and there, we are granted flashes of elements that might’ve formed a truly interesting movie, but which are left undeveloped and utterly underwhelming. The misogynistic mother-hatred, for example, provided the one moment of surprise and shock in a key scene, and the pagan mysticism was decently cool but never managed to land with any awe or alterity.
Then there’s the moral ambiguity that ends up being mere moral incoherence, resulting not from contemplative writing but from a totally bland plot trying too desperately to make itself interesting; that, again, contains the seed of something good, but Eggers fails to channel any of this into something worthwhile.
I came away with the sense that there was only a paper-thin aesthetic difference between this and any other piece of shit action movie about Vikings and warriors. Eggers has enough ability to raise it marginally above true sword-and-sorcery trash, but simultaneously robs the genre of its constitutive fun and bad taste, replacing it instead with grim pretension, fetishistic realism, and deluded fantasies of honor and tragedy.