Blockbuster cinema has been sort of stale for the past decade or more. These huge productions have been overtaken almost completely by the superhero genre. Where super-powered beings throw powers at each other and large amounts of CGI are thrown at the screen to transform the audience’s perception into thinking that this is exciting and worth the investment.
This formula is successful, and there is no doubt about it. However, when you receive the same dish repeatedly, it doesn’t matter how good it tastes, people will get sick of it. Or worse, they will become so used to it that it stops having the same effect, and what once was something special will now become something mundane.
We’re just in April 2022 and two filmmakers have already proven that things can be different and better. Matt Reeves made a Batman movie that goes against the conventions of the genre and ends up being a noir detective story instead of the standard hero and villain battling it out with their martial prowess.
Now comes Robert Eggers, an indie director that found success with his first film, The Witch, and followed it with the criminally underrated The Lighthouse. Eggers is a filmmaker with a vision. There is not a single frame in any of his movies that doesn’t come from his imagination. The effort that he and his team put into translating his thoughts into the cinema screen is outstanding and with The Northman, Eggers and his team go to the next level.
Here is a 90 million budget picture, a blockbuster by pretty much all the standards, focused on making its own rules and following its path. The result is Eggers’s most accessible film so far, and also, one of the best films of the year.
The Northman is written and directed by Robert Eggers in collaboration with the Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón when it comes to the script. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Claes Bang. The film tells the story of prince Amleth who, after witnessing the murder of his father at the hands of his uncle, flees from his destiny, until strings of fate call him back to take back his kingdom.
The Northman is a magical tale of war, vengeance, love, and magic. Eggers is not only interested in recreating the rituals and the Viking culture from the 900 AC in the most accurate way possible. But also to go further and recreate the magic aspects that have made the Viking Sagas such powerful stories through the centuries. Against all odds, Eggers manages to cut the cake and eat it, too, creating a powerful cinematic experience that is exquisite on almost every level.
This is undoubtedly the most accessible of Eggers’s three films, and even when the final cut we are watching on screen isn’t the cut Eggers wanted to show. The studio notes could not hold the strength of the movie. If there’s something to complain about, it is that the first section of the movie feels a bit rushed.
Thanks to a recent article published by the New Yorker, we know that this is a consequence of studio inference, when trying to make the movie more mainstream and accessible to general audiences. Even with those cuts, the film remains strange, poetic, and brutal. The blood and guts of both animals and human beings are treated with the same level of respect and indifference. In a movie that tries with every single step to make us question if this journey for vengeance is really worth it.
Alexander Skarsgård shines in what is the best role of his career. The actor pushes himself both on a physical and emotional level, and carries the movie’s weight on his shoulders the whole way through. Anya Taylor-Joy keeps being a talent to watch for, and Nicole Kidman has some amazing scenes that show, more than anything else that she has done in the past years, why she’s an A-Lister. Every member of the acting crew is on top of their level and the way Eggers shots them loving or hating, makes them all beautiful to look at.
The rigorous attention to detail that made The Witch and The Lighthouse movies worth watching on a historical level, is back with force. Amleth’s tale takes him not only through Viking culture but also to explore the Slavic cultures and their different religions, gods, and rituals. It is fascinating and makes the movie unique, you have never seen representations of these cultures recreated in such a way.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke comes back for his third film with Eggers. Blaschke steps up his game just like everybody else, pulling off some impressive continuous shots that are mesmerizing and create a level of atmosphere and intensity that is difficult to replicate otherwise.
The score by Sebastian Gainsborough and Robin Carolan is also something to behold, calling back to tunes and instruments from the old days, giving the movie a sense of epicness and mystery that sucks you in.
The movie moves between explosive violence, and beautiful meditations that, for the character, serve as a respite from this harsh world. It is quite beautiful to admit that even when everything falls and all seems lost, big and small things are still worth caring about.
Eggers shows this by making Amleth’s quest as gray as possible. At points, it will make you wonder why we are following this character, just to then introduce the audience to one of the coolest sequences they have ever watched and bringing them back to the fold once again. It is masterful.
The Northman proves that Eggers is in complete control of his visions and how he translates them to the screen. He and his whole team should be proud of making one of the best, if not the best, movie of the year so far.