I was looking forward to "The Northman" due to a variety of different reasons.... or, if I'm being honest, just one: Anya Taylor-Joy. The talented, gorgeous seductress she is, once I learned that she would play a starring role in this film, I knew I had to see it on the largest screen possible. Unfortunately, the theatre I went to had an unfortunately small screen that certainly detracted from my viewing experience; maybe this was a strategic move, however, on the part of the studio, as now I will be going to see this movie again at a different cinema, preferably one with a bigger silver screen. And as I am so willing to go pay to see this movie again, surely I must have loved it.... right? Wrong - and don't call me Shirley.
"The Northman" is no doubt overhyped. Directed by Robert Eggers, who has made "The Witch" (which I adore) and "The Lighthouse" (which I haven't yet seen), "The Northman" is his third feature, one that was making a name for itself before it was even released due to how well-received his previous two movies were. In all honesty, it seems like people were ready to love this without even having seen it yet, and I believe that, because of this excitement, people (critics included) are having a difficult time looking at this movie objectively - because with all there is to appreciate, there is also an equal amount to criticize.
Anya Taylor-Joy is perfection, as always - she's not just beautiful, but she is proving her range as an actress in each and every role she chooses. Yes, she may have been my reason for buying a ticket to this, but I was equally as impressed with virtually everyone in here. Alexander Skarsg?rd is one of my favorite actors, and he was very effective as a monstrous brooding brute. Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman also do well with what they have; in short, the acting is good - that is, when the script allows it to be. Because, even though the actors and actresses are clearly committed to their parts, the script is full of borderline embarrassing dialogue. Conversations have no substance to them, with people speaking as if they've never spoken before. Many lines are simplistic to the extreme, almost as if they were written by a mediocre fan fiction writer. You can almost look past it due to the clear competence of the performers, but my near constant eye rolls had me wishing for a better screenplay.
If you've seen the trailer for this, you already know the movie looks incredible - and it does. My eyes were constantly glued to the screen, soaking up the scenery. Similarly, my ears found themselves honed in on the soundtrack; basically a star in and of itself, the score here booms through the theatre sound systems. Ominous and engrossing, the soundtrack is nearly constant, seeping everything in a sense of horror and unease - and it's effective (and so loud that, even if you find yourself bored, you won't be able to fall asleep). Visually and audibly, "The Northman" is 100% worth the price of admission. From a plot and story perspective, however, you'll find it lacking.
"The Northman" has a simplistic story - perhaps too simplistic for its own good. Following a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father's murder, you'd think that Eggers would have something unique up his sleeve. I assumed that he'd either fill this movie with great action and have this be his entry into blockbuster filmmaking, or if not that, at the least attempt to throw a wrench in what is otherwise a traditional revenge movie. Alas, he does neither! "The Northman" does not have enough action to qualify as a satisfying action movie (granted, the action is filmed well, but is surprisingly tame and not as bloody as I expected or wanted) nor does it have enough plot twists to switch things up from average revenge fare. The movie meanders, barely picking up any steam except for the occasional burst of violence. You'll spend a lot of time watching characters engage in uninteresting conversations that could've been interesting with better dialogue. You'll see psychedelic dream sequences that are unique the first time, and then quickly overplayed by the second, third, fourth, and fifth time. The story lacks focus; so sure, while you'll see a visual feast of Norse culture that never really leads anywhere, you'll also find yourself asking whether you're watching a revenge movie or a historically accurate portrayal of 900 A. D. life.
In many ways "The Northman" delivers. It's great to look at (and not just because of Anya Taylor-Joy), with truly immersive world building that draws viewers in with overwhelming sights and sounds. This is a brutal film, one that's not afraid to show Norse culture as it was. This is also a film that has a shocking lack of direction. While I would never say I was bored or disengaged, I can say I found myself slightly confused at the way the movie plodded along; for a movie that's over two hours, not much happens, and when things do happen, it isn't very interesting. I was disappointed in "The Northman," but even so, cannot deny the quality of its technical aspects - I only wish that quality carried over in the storytelling.