Review – Conan On Steroids (“The Northman”)

Looks like we may have a new mantra. Instead of the famous “My name is Indigo Montoya. . .” quote, we could have a new one with this film’s, “I will avenge you, father! I will save you, mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!” Meh, it might work.

This story is based on the 12th Century medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth, a tale that was directly responsible for inspiring Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Hamlet. Mixing sagas like Braveheart, Excalibur, Game of Thrones, Beowulf, and Conan the Barbarian, this unapologetically brutal and violently graphic story deals with an Icelandic clan in 895 AD. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) has just come home after a long battle and greets his beautiful wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and tween son, Amleth (Oscar Novak). But just as he gets home, King Aurvandill’s nasty brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang) decides to murder Aurvandill, Amleth, and kidnap Gudrún. Monday’s, humpft, amIright?

Escaping with his life to another land, a grown-up Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, all ripped & cut) joins a mindless, barbaric Wolf clan of Vikings that enjoys a nice afternoon of raping, pillaging, and killing. But after talking to a mysterious seeress (the singer Bjork), he remembers his childhood vow of revenge. Hopping a nearby ship, he disguises himself as a slave to be sold to Fjölnir. In the meantime, he meets up with a pretty Slavic slave named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who he takes a shine to. Once in the care of Fjölnir, Amleth can’t just kill him, no, no, no, no, that would be way too easy. He has a prophecy to keep!

Finding a mystical sword (the only one that can kill Fjölnir), Amleth decides to play the long con and gaslight Fjölnir by butchering everyone around him. Yeah, it gets bloody! Steeped in mysticism, mythology, and historical legend, this movie has loads of stunning visuals like in The Green Knight, along with guts spilling all over the place like in a slasher movie. If you can look past all the gore, you’re in for a banquet of raw, visceral, man-beef screaming intensity. Written by director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) and Sjon (Lamb), this movie is not only a striking cinematic feast for the eyes (the location shooting in Ireland is jaw-dropping!), but the layers of Amleth’s personal growth and what he goes through is profoundly deep and effecting.

Eggers, as a director, is amazing (wait for the Oscars next year!). His technique is stunning and reminds me of Ken Russell or David Lynch. And the acting is frighteningly good as well. Skarsgård is a cunning monster on a mission, but still wants to go to Valhalla. His only release is Taylor-Joy, who is exceptionally understated and has some tough scenes to pull off. Kidman, while not on camera too much, has one awesome moment with Skarsgård that is riveting. Look for an extended cameo by Willem Dafoe as a court jester that is just this side of weird. But the one to watch here is Danish actor and musician Claes Bang. He commands the screen as Fjölnir and is a force to be reckoned with.

At 137 minutes, it does tend to overstay its welcome late in the third act (just KILL him already!), but all the dazzling camera work, drop-dead gorgeous scenery, and super-intense acting carries you through to the end. Oh, and the soundtrack has lots of that deep, low, rumbling, thrroommmmm sound, along with a loud male choir singing like they are gargling. Warning: if you love horses, be prepared, as there are several ghastly scenes of horses being treated in a rather gruesome manner. This ain’t rated R for nuthin’!

**Now showing in theaters only.    

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Based on Robert E. Howard’s 1932 character in books, comics, and pulp magazines, this warrior barbarian had a long history (as far back as 1970) of trying to be a motion picture. Finally, Universal Studios picked up the rights after a two-year request.

The tale of Conan is fraught with danger and misery, starting with his childhood. His people, the Cimmerians, live in a small, obscure small village that is massacred by the evil Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his goons. Both his parents are killed in front of him and Conan is taken into slavery and chained to the Wheel of Pain for decades. Eventually, Conan becomes a massive, muscular man and is trained to be a fearsome, mindless gladiator. After winning countless fights, he is freed. Seeking revenge against his parents & people, he wanders the world, finding an ancient sword, encountering a prophetic witch, and then befriending Subotai (Gerry Lopez), a Hyrkanian thief and archer.

Together they travel the lands and meet the crafty thief Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) in Zamora. They all raid the Tower of the Serpent, stealing jewels and other valuables, as Conan slays a giant snake in the process. But after escaping with their loot, they’re caught by King Osric (Max Von Sydow) who requests they rescue his daughter, Princess Yasmina (Valerie Quennessen), now a zealot in Doom’s cult. They agree since Conan is motivated by his hatred for Doom and his desire for vengeance. But as Conan is trying to infiltrate the temple, he is discovered, captured, and tortured. Doom lectures Conan on the “riddle of steel” and what that means.

Near death, Conan is brought to Akiro (Mako), the Wizard of the Mounds, who lives near the ocean. The wizard summons spirits to heal Conan, but warns that Valeria will pay the price for this. Now healed, all three sneak in through a back door in the mountains and attack while freeing the Princess. This doesn’t go well as Doom ends up trying to kill the Princess, but sending Valeria to her death instead. Enraged, Doom sends his goons to kill Conan and his friends, but Conan and company are ready with booby traps and wipe the bad guys out, leading to a final showdown between Conan & Doom at his outdoor temple.

Written by the prolific writer/director John Milius (Dirty Harry, Red Dawn, Big Wednesday), this movie has a strange history: even though it made a huge amount of money at the box office, Arnold Schwarzeneggar received a Razzie Nomination for Worst Actor! Then it goes on to be on not one, but three AFI lists!! Go figure. The sequel, Conan the Destroyer, came out in 1984 and did pretty good, but nowhere as good as the first one. Arnold popped up as ‘Conan’ in 1985’s horrible Red Sonja, and there were plans for a part three, but that movie was scrapped and turned into the laughably bad Kull The Conquerer in 1987. To this day, there is still talk of Arnold reprising his role of Conan in some kind of feature film.     

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