Film Review: Northmen: A Viking Saga

Bland Vikings battle through a foreign land in this dreary genre throwaway.
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Bearded swordsmen hack and slash and yell and snarl in Northmen: A Viking Saga, though all that tumult is as formulaic as it is monotonous. Working from a script of earthquake-like subtlety, Claudio Fäh’s film concerns Asbjörn (Tom Hopper), the nondescript leader of a group of Viking seamen who wind up stranded in Scotland after their ship goes down in a storm. No sooner have Asbjörn and his crew pulled themselves out of the ocean and scaled a giant beachside cliff wall then they’re attacked by a legion of soldiers under the command of King Dunchaid (Danny Keogh). That initiates the first of many combat sequences shot by director Fäh with a preference for “chaos cinema” techniques–i.e., close-up action shots that are so spastically edited together that all spatial coherence is lost – and a habit of obscuring the gore and mutilation that would naturally occur from such stabbing, chopping and impaling.

Despite its relative bloodlessness, Northmen’s action remains brutal, albeit in a decidedly one-note way, as every character’s similar appearance–tattered garb, scruffy beards, stringy hair, and grimacing faces–transforms each skirmish into an exercise in redundancy. Not helping matters is the fact that Asbjörn and company are featureless protagonists defined by one trait. That also holds true of their primary adversary Hjorr (Ed Skrein), a gleefully evil mercenary hired by King Dunchaid to not only kill these Viking men, but to retrieve the King’s daughter Inghean (Charlie Murphy), who’s been captured by Asbjörn and, as such things go, naturally fallen for his He-Man-ish charms.

Considerable time is spent on Asbjörn arguing with his men about the right course of action, which inevitably also concerns Christian monk Conall (Ryan Kwanten of “True Blood”), a man of the cloth whom Asbjörn’s cohorts view with mistrust but whose handiness in battle is matched by his noble desire to help these strangers in their feud with the dastardly King. Since everyone’s character is uncomplicated from the get-go, Northmen’s numerous debates about Conall’s trustworthiness prove mere time-fillers, though they’re ultimately no less enervating than the chases through the forests that make up most of the proceedings, defined as those moments are by “surprise” deaths that make little dramatic impact but provide even further opportunities for the cast to bellow and rage with unhinged, spittle-flying fervor.

A climactic confrontation at a shaky bridge across a treacherous chasm turns out to be a shameless rip-off of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s centerpiece. Such derivation, however, is ultimately overshadowed by the sheer silliness of Northmen, which has characters cheat death in impossible ways and which hints at magic forces at play in a feeble attempt to further align itself with its most obvious cinematic predecessor, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchise. Certainly, more fanciful orcs and less simplistic oration spouted by dirtied-up male models might have gone some way toward salvaging Fäh’s film from functioning as merely a dreary, disposable B-movie.

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