Rated R. At AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, Landmark Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner Theatre and suburban theaters.
Production designer-turned-director Robert Eggers (“The Witch,” “The Lighthouse”), who co-wrote his newest “The Northman” with Icelandic creator Sjon (“Lamb”), has been more proficient at memorable visuals and dense atmospherics than storytelling, and his newest will do nothing to change that impression.
A fictionalized origin story for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “The Northman” is the splatter “Hamlet” with no connection to Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, Shakespeare’s supply. “The Northman” begins in 895 with narration about “the Norns,” “Odin the all-father,” Yggdrasil “the King of Trees” and the sounds of drums, horns and Viking throat-singing. We drink all of it in.
Young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) walks in on his lovely mom Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) dressing and experiences a barking-mad initiation ceremony together with his beloved father King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) in scenes combining equal elements Joseph Campbell and Timothy Leary.
After the homicide of his father by his uncle Fjolnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang, “The Square”), Amleth evades seize and grows as much as be a berserker (6-foot-4-inch-plus Alexander Skarsgard), sporting a wolf’s head as a hat and raiding a Slavic village. When he learns that captive slaves will likely be despatched to King Fjolnir and Queen Gudrun, who married her husband’s assassin, Amleth disguises himself as a — very massive — captive and seeks his vengeance in opposition to Fjolnir in Iceland. This vengeance takes the seeming type of a blood sacrifice to darkish demon gods. After one evening of killing, Amleth leaves a blood-splattered frieze made out of butchered our bodies tied in opposition to a picket wall.
Set in a world with a smoking volcano within the background, “The Northman” may be very usually excessive. It’s an Icelandic “The Green Knight” with chapter headings within the twig-like Old Norse Runic script of the sagas and eddas. The dialogue can land like a grenade of Nordic phlegm. Amleth falls in love with the Slavic captive Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy of Eggers’ “The Witch”). After the mess that was “Last Night in Soho,” you’d hope the proficient Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) would catch a break. But having to introduce your self as “Olga of the Birch Forest” can be robust even for Olivia Colman.
Who’s that unhealthy man with a lacking nostril? In a scorching spring, Amleth and Olga bathe and pledge their troth. Amleth continues to wreak havoc, chopping down Fjolnir’s followers each evening. Willem Dafoe of Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” exhibits up as Heimer the Fool, extra Viking kitsch. A giant scene involving a sport with cudgels and a ball is quidditch for psychos. You will recall that Skarsgard performed Kidman’s husband in “Big Little Lies.” Let’s face it. The child is simply not as nice as his father, Stellan. None aside from Bjork herself seems as a seeress with three eyes and sufficient equipment to choke a horse. Speaking of horses, “The Northman” boasts scenes with many extras and horses that had been reportedly a nightmare to movie, requiring a number of takes, not like CGI. You need to minimize a break for a filmmaker prepared to go to such lengths. The large “Excalibur”-like, closing sword combat is shot in opposition to the backdrop of that volcano erupting.
Symbolically, “The Northman” is a Freudian freak present. “Their god is a corpse nailed to a tree,” some mocking Viking says of Christians. “The Northman” has a Valkyrie with braces on her tooth. Scream, Odin.
(“The Northman” incorporates excessive violence, nudity and extra excessive violence.)