There is still gore aplenty, mind you, but nothing on the extravagant scale of that ferocious village raid. There is some wonderfully bizarre imagery, too, but nothing as trippy as that early hallucinatory sequence with the farting and the levitation. Björk, alas, gets no more than two or three minutes on screen. The initial feverish energy dissipates, the geographical scope diminishes, and the stakes lower, until The Northman has become a twee historical romance with thin characterization, substandard visual effects, and a few US and European actors speaking English in various sort-of Scandinavian accents. Kidman and Bang, incidentally, are only nine years older than Skarsgård.
Stranded somewhere between an experimental art project and a mainstream Nordic answer to Gladiator, it’s certainly tamer than The Lighthouse. More pertinently, it’s tamer than David Lowery’s The Green Knight, which came out last year. The Northman and The Green Knight have a lot in common. Both of them are earthy yet surreal swords ‘n’ sorcery quests based on medieval stories, and both feature witches, giants, shadowy banqueting halls, and heads being lopped off left, right and center. But The Green Knight was so radically beautiful and disorienting that The Northman seems almost conventional in comparison.
On the other hand, there aren’t many films that don’t seem conventional compared to The Green Knight. Compared to most US action adventures, The Northman is adventurous and distinctive. It feels compromised, but the great stuff outweighs the not-so-great stuff. To see or not to see? If that is the question, the answer is: see it.
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