‘The Northman’ review: Alexander Skarsgård plays the lead role in Viking epic

Rarely has a trailer so nicely summed up what a movie is about, in which the young Prince Amleth witnesses the death of his father, the king (Ethan Hawke), in the hands of the king’s brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). The boy flees for his life and promises revenge as well as freeing his mother (Nicole Kidman), as father has helpfully given him a pep talk about the importance of revenge, even before this act of fratricide cemented Amleth’s fate.

Blink forward for many years, and Amleth has grown into Alexander Skarsgård, who has clearly lived a brutal life while knocking on the Viking equivalent of protein shakes. When he hears that his uncle has been deposed and now presides over a farm in Iceland, he arranges to be sent there as a slave, bringing him within reach of fulfilling his lengthy quest.

After collaborating on the script with the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, Eggers’ decision to place Fjölnir in a smaller environment significantly lowers the effort – there is no throne to recapture – in a way that dampens the drama. But the real obstacle is to tease the time before Amleth seeks revenge, waging a kind of psychological war against his uncle before finally pursuing his inevitable goal.

A man with a few words, Amleth finds time to bond with another slave (“The Queen’s Gambit’s” Anya Taylor-Joy), who offers the prospect of a life that may extend beyond his statement that “My heart know only revenge “, or stylized references to” The freezing river of hatred that runs through my veins. “

While this is a more commercial venture than anything like “The Lighthouse,” Eggers’ presentation adds a hallucinogenic quality that uses washed-out tones and black-and-white during the harsh night sequences. The dream-like aspects are emblematic of a time when the gods were largely considered to intervene in human life and visions of Odin and the Valkyries emphasized the mixture of superstition and mysticism.

The work of artist Frank Frazetta has apparently informed the look, and “The Northman” leans into its opera violence in a sometimes eerie way, which hardly comes as a surprise.

What it does not do is create something particularly meaty for the actors to play – unlike “Vikings” and Netflix’s latest prequel series – though “Lighthouse” veterans Willem Dafoe and Kidman make the most of their limited screen time. (As a footnote, Kidman actually played Skarsgård’s wife in “Big Little Lies,” but hey, this is Hollywood for you.)

“The Northman” earns plenty of style points, where Eggers has deftly found a sweet spot between his indie film roots and the kind of big, crisp film production that could attract a larger audience with the promise of a thoughtless spectacle.

At least a little more substance, however, would certainly have helped to avoid the feeling that when Amleth is not directly involved in pursuing her just plan to kill Fjölnir, then “The Norwegian” basically just kills time.

“The Northman” premieres in US theaters on April 22. It is rated to R.

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