Thursday, April 21, 2022

Eggers swings for the fences with 'Northman' but falls short of real power

One of the early strengths of young filmmaker Robert Eggers has been his uncanny ability to entertain us with low-key scares, as he did mostly in "The Witch" and, perhaps, less successfully if more creepily in "The Lighthouse."

Now, though. the director (and co-writer) really goes straight for the jugular with a big budget blood and mud bath, "The Northman," which takes a mythic tale that apparently inspired "Hamlet" and dresses it up for the big screen with "Game of Thrones"-like mayhem. (Hence, the creepy stuff is saved this time for Nicole Kidman's "maternal" character. Get it?)

Eggers brings along a couple of stalwarts from his aformentioned movies, too, with "Lighthouse"-keeper Willem Dafoe here portraying a combo jester/advisor to a murdered Nordic king (Ethan Hawke), and Anya Taylor-Joy, now an A-lister after playing "The Witch" and a chess whiz on "The Queen's Gambit," nicely still settling for supporting love interest to the dead monarch's muscular and revenge-happy son (Alexander Skarsgard).

Of course, none of the players should be blamed for the uneven historical canvas or the unnecessary length of some scenes. One, in fact, the great Dane named Claes Bang, who was so good in little movies such as "The Square" and "The Burnt Orange Heresy," even mightily impresses with his own kingly clout. 

Regardless, if anyone really is looking to be entertained by stories of this ilk, may I suggest a 1958 spectacle simply called "The Vikings"? Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles -- full-fledged movie stars all -- carried the film to a resounding $13 million international box office and spawned a TV series in which none of them worked. By the way, if you can't locate the movie on a streaming service, a place called your local library might find a copy somewhere.

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity; 2:20; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening only in theaters Friday: "The Bad Guys" (animated) and "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" (with Nicolas Cage actually playing himself).

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