My wife and I just caught an advance screening of “The Northman.” I tend to be a homebody these days, so when she told me last week she had passes to a movie, she quickly added, “This is your kind of movie.”
She was right. Mostly.
It stars a totally ripped, berserking Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, a Viking prince whose uncle murders his father and takes Amleth’s mother as his wife. If that sounds like the plot of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” you’re right — but in fact, Shakespeare, um, “borrowed” his plot from an old Viking tale and changed the protagonist’s name from Amleth to Hamlet.
Writers refer to such a process as “recycling.” It’s a good thing.
One big difference between Shakespeare’s tragedy and director Robert Eggers’ movie is that there’s nothing indecisive about the main character of “The Northman.” When young Amleth witnesses his father’s murder, he escapes and apprentices himself to Vikings, who teach him the finer points of plundering and fighting dirty as he plots his revenge. His determination is so single-minded that he doesn’t seem to care who gets hurt along the way, including enslaving peaceful villagers and torching their homes. That, I think, makes him an unsympathetic character.
And what a blood-soaked revenge it is! Witches and magical ravens guide Amleth to a mystical sword, which he uses to spill the guts of his uncles’s goons until he’s finally face to face with his uncle. Rather than a retelling of “Hamlet,” the tone of the movie is more reminiscent of “Conan the Barbarian,” “Gladiator,” and “Braveheart.”
“The Northman” is a gory romp, but certainly not for the kiddies.