The Northman completely changes what a modern action movie can do 1 year ago

The Northman completely changes what a modern action movie can do

The viking blockbuster was mostly filmed in Donegal and Antrim.

Writer and director Robert Eggers makes weird movies. Great movies, but weird movies.


He had us afraid of goats and wanting to live deliciously with The Witch, and then had Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe fall in and out of love and hate with each other throughout The Lighthouse.

So, if you give him $90 million to make an action movie, then you're not going to get a $90 million action movie – you're going to get a $90 million Robert Eggers action movie, and that is exactly what you get with The Northman.

While there are multiple moments and scenes that may rub some audience members up the wrong way, it is that mix of the truly bizarre with what at times is a very streamlined action movie that resets the boundaries of what a modern action movie is capable of.

When his father (Ethan Hawke) is killed and his mother (Nicole Kidman) is kidnapped by his uncle (Claes Bang), young Amleth runs away from his kingdom, spending the next few decades becoming a single-minded machine of vengeance, with the intent of returning home to get his revenge.


Once grown up, Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgard) disguises himself as a new slave for his uncle, begins to fall in love with a fellow slave (Anya Taylor-Joy), and together they set about destroying his uncle's life from the inside out.

Not for nothing, Amleth is basically what Shakespeare based Hamlet on – dead dad, evil uncle, troubled son, etc – but whereas Shakespeare's take didn't let the blood spill until the final few minutes, the violence is ever-present throughout The Northman.

Our first introduction to grown-up Amleth is as a part of a pack of Vikings as they lay waste to a settlement in a technically staggering one-shot attack sequence that begins with one of the coolest images in recent cinema history (you'll know it when you see it), and ends with Skarsgard's muscled frame drenched head to toe in blood.


It turns Eggers is a dab hand at directing action, setting the grizzly hack 'n' slash stuff against the stunning vistas (mostly shot in Donegal and Antrim), all the while peppering in some of his trademark weirdness.

A rites-of-passage scene involving Hawke and Willem Dafoe literally has you confused as to which way is up; when a group of soldiers have their meals spiked with hallucinogens things take a turn for the horrific; while Eggers' visual shorthand for Amleth's family is a spooky tree made out of connected umbilical cords.

While it doesn't all coalesce into something absolutely perfect - the romance between Skarsgard and Joy feels undercooked, while Bang never really represents a threatening equal to our hero - The Northman does successfully marry the ideologies of 300 and The Green Knight into something that is very much a blockbuster, while also completely arthouse.

Go in with an open mind and you'll come out having enjoyed one of the best and most-unique action movies of recent years.


The Northman arrives in Irish cinemas on Friday, 15 April.