REVIEW: Northmen: A Viking Saga (2014)
SCOOT OVER PIRATES, the Vikings are here.
‘Northmen: A Viking Saga’ is an action movie directed by Hollywood-based Swiss director Claudio Fäh whose directing resume includes ‘Hollow Man 2’ and ‘Sniper: Reloaded’.
The storyline follows a crew of Viking raiders under the command of their young leader, Asbjörn (Tom Hopper), who could easily be passed off as Thor’s younger brother, stranded on the coast of Scotland after their ship was smashed in a storm.
By chance, they come across Inghean (Charlie Murphy) in a horse-drawn carriage. Being Vikings they successfully dispatch her bodyguards and take her as hostage. The Vikings don’t know that she’s a Scottish princess yet, but they figure out that she’s somebody important from her overall appearance, and hold her for ransom to make up for their losses at sea.
The Vikings run into True Blood star Ryan Kwanten who plays a mysterious sword-fighting Christian monk named Conall, who not only confirms that Inghean is somebody important, but the daughter to King Dunchaid.
Rather than pay her ransom, King Dunchaid (Danny Keogh) sends a band of mercenaries led by blood-thirsty brothers Bovarr (Anatole Taubman) and Hjorr (Ed Skrein) to save his daughter.
Due to his own grudges against the king, Conall helps the Vikings and finds himself caught on the run from the mercenaries too.
The storyline maybe somewhat simple, but minor plot twists like Bovarr and Hjorr’s own agenda against Dunchaid help keep the chase from one coast to another interesting.
Of course, the mercenaries catch up with the Vikings several times in various types of battlefields which lead to bloodshed on both sides.
Since its set in the 9th century, expect throat-cutting, limb amputations and people being run through with knives and swords in the battle scenes. It’s not ‘300’ gory, but it’s still gory because of the amputations and a decapitated head.
When it comes to battle scenes, the sound effects section may have gone a little far with the punching sounds. Every fist thrown comes with a loud whack that only reminds me of Tamil movies, which makes the hand combat scenes unrealistic.
The overall soundtrack by Marcus Trumpp (known for his work in ‘World War Z’ and ‘I, Robot’) is amazing. It especially helps raise your heartbeat during anxious scenes.
What is an epic movie without the forbidden love between a wanted criminal and a royal princess?
In an epic adventure film like this, the audience usually has to brace itself for a mushy romantic scene or the hero and heroine sharing a fireside confessional between life-threatening moments, although we do find out that she was on her way to an arranged marriage with the prince of a neighbouring kingdom before the Vikings kidnapped her.
Much to my relief, the Swiss took mercy on us in this movie because there is no cheesy exchange between Asbjörn and Inghean. She only had one vaguely romantic line for him before their moment was interrupted.
Over recent years, Hollywood has started a trend in the film industry I like to call the ‘man-candy’ moments where directors take 30 seconds of our viewing time during the story to appreciate the sculpted male physique.
All the movies in the ‘Thor’ or ‘Captain America’ franchise are a few examples of movies that have man-candy moments.
Part of me was secretly waiting for a man-candy moment throughout this movie because a story with Viking warriors swinging their muscular arms with blades in hand ought to have man-candy moments right? Even Hjorr played by English rap artist and actor Skrein is dreamily handsome.
I was mistaken. The man-candy moments sadly never arrived.
One scene which had man-candy moment potential takes place in the monk’s tower where some Vikings are in the background cleaning themselves (pouring pails of water over their heads, wiping their chests) but that was about it. Whether Asbjorn had a chiselled chest or six pack abs will remain for Inghean’s eyes only as far as the movie is concerned.
Lack of man-candy moments aside, each character is well-developed with brief background stories for the key players. Instead of using the usual flashback scenes on their pasts, the audience discovers the characters’ histories through their interactions and conversations with each other.
Hopper, an English actor and Murphy an Irish actress alongside their mainly European cast may not be familiar faces here in Malaysia but their performances in this movie are worth watching.
Another element worth mentioning about this movie is the picturesque shooting locations worthy of the Hobbit. Instead of New Zealand, the locations are in the valleys of South Africa to duplicate the Scottish highlands.
The downside to the movie are a few clichéd moments: a villain’s sudden rise from the dead, the hero breaking down and crying over his fallen comrade in the middle of the story which then becomes his sudden motivation to fight even harder, and of course the love interest between captor and his captive.
Putting aside the simple storyline and clichéd plots, this movie is enjoyable because the run from the villains is heart-racing thanks to the interesting battlegrounds and soundtracks. There are even some unanswered questions in the movie that make me wish that there was a sequel.
According to IMDb, Malaysia is one of the five countries to watch the first premiere of this movie on Oct 23.
There may be no mind-blowing plot twists in the storyline but you can watch it for the bragging rights because we are the few countries who get to watch this movie first.
This movie is expected to arrive on US shores in March 2015.
I score it a three out of five.
Northmen: A Viking Saga (2014)
Director: Claudio Fäh
Starring: Tom Hopper, Ryan Kwanten, Charlie Murphy, Ed Skrein Ken Duken, Anatole Taubman, James Norton
Running time: 97 mins