May 12, 2022 – There is not much subtlety in this movie about barbarism, murder and revenge, despite its similarity to Shakespeare's Macbeth. Rather, it embraces Norse mysticism, swordplay, blood and overacting, achieving electrifying white hot levels of emotion in the process.
Based on old Norse legends, the movie opens in 895 A.D. In Scandinavia. King Aurvandil War-Raven (played by Ethan Hawke of “The Magnificent Seven”) returning from battle, wounded and worried about the future of his kingdom. He accompanies his young son, Amleth, in an elaborate, mystical ceremony to prepare him to be the next king. The next morning, the King is ambushed and killed by his brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang of “The Girl in the Spider's Web”). Young Amleth witnesses the crime and escapes, vowing to avenge his father's death and rescue his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman of “Being the Ricardos”) from the clutches of Fjölnir.
Years pass before the next scenes (the movie is told in chapters, complete with intertitle chapter headings) where we find Amleth (played as a grown man by Alexander Skarsgård of “Melancholia”) as a beserker warrior participating in a raid on a village. Amleth seems to have become disconnected from his noble past and his vows.
After the successful raid on the village, however, Amleth is confronted by a witch who reminds him of his vow and reveals his future path of revenge via powerful visions. The object of his revenge, Fjölnir, has been overthrown and he is living in exile in Iceland. Amleth stows away with a group of slaves bound for Iceland, where he falls in love with a fellow slave, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy of “The Witch”).
Amleth and Olga both become slaves of Fjölnir. Neither he, nor his wife Gudrún recognize Amleth as their kin. Both Amleth and Olga work their way up to the level of trusted slaves in Fjölnir's household, even as they plan his death.
When Amleth finally confronts his mother, Gudrún, and reveals his true identity to her, she reveals shocking facts to him about the relationship between her, his father and Fjölnir. Gudrún lets Amleth know in no uncertain terms that she opposes his quest for revenge. Gudrún, like Fjölnir, had believed for years that Amleth had been hunted down and killed on the same day that Amleth's father, King Aurvandil War-Raven, was murdered.
Amleth's resolve is shaken by his mother's attitude towards him, and by his love for Olga. However, more mystic revelations from another witch, and his own visions, lead him to believe that he must still carry out his mission of revenge. Murder and chaos follow.
This is a story of fierce emotions and flaming passions. Nicole Kidman is awesome as she channels Lady Macbeth. Alexander Skarsgård is scary in beserker mode. This is a movie that doesn't shy away from emotions, it embraces them fully. The actors don't shy away from overacting, either, they revel in it, and this is both refreshing and entertaining.
The movie also fully embraces Nordic mysticism in supernatural events, as well as in dreams and visions of Amleth's predetermined future. These mystical revelations are shown in impressive imagery. At the same time Amleth is confronted by the realization that his past is a lot more complicated than he thought it was. He lives in a violent and tragic world, but maybe it doesn't need to be that way. In the end, his final violent act may well be motivated not entirely by hate, but also by love.
The Vikings were a remarkable people, who left an indelible mark on the Western World. The names of their gods still mark four days of the week, including Thor's Day. They were a great seafaring people who traveled far beyond where other Europeans dared to go in their time, and they were fierce warriors. Some of that greatness, and much of that fierceness, is reflected in this movie. This film rates a B.
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