Directed by Mikkel Brænne Sandemose
Films that deal with Scandinavian mythology are a guilty of pleasure of mine, though this is due to jealousy more than anything else. While American mythology is mostly found in little known Indian myths and folklore surrounding great American heroes, the mythology of northern Europe is diverse and, in the case of the Norwegian story of Ragnarok, the end of the world, exceedingly epic. For director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose, the history of this familiar tale is the setting for the endearing adventure tale-cum-creature feature Ragnarok.
Ragnarok follows Sigurd, an archaeologist in Norway who has spent years trying to uncover the secrets of the Oseberg ship, a Viking boat discovered in the early 20th century in a burial mound in Vestfold county in Norway. Covered in runes alluding to the true history of Ragnarok – the end of the world in Norse mythology – the Oseberg ship has become the focus of Sigurd’s life, in part out of respect for the memory of his wife, with whom he also shared a professional relationship. One night, his friend Allan arrives on his doorstep in the middle of the night with a burial stone containing a runic code suggesting a connection with the Oseberg ship and thus clues to the real history of Ragnarok. With Allan and an attractive guide named Elisabeth in tow, he gathers up his two young kids and embarks on an adventure to the isolated area of Finnmark to search for the secret of the end of the world. And while this secret may or may not end up remaining as elusive as ever, they do become privy to a secret lying dormant underneath the waters of northern Europe. And it’s a big one, filled with lots of teeth and an apparent appetite for human.
Ragnarok’s perceived epic scope, set-up early on with the discovery of the burial stone and promise of adventure, is supported by gorgeous sweeping aerial shots of the Norwegian landscape that gives off an almost Lord of the Rings vibe. This, however, ultimately gives way to the confines of a small cave, a burned out tank, and an underground bunker. As a result, any sense of epic adventure suggested by their arrival in Finnmark is diminished. It’s all well and good, though, as Ragnarok is less an adventure epic aping the works of Spielberg than it is a creature feature, albeit one that’s ill-defined. It becomes the primary focus of the film, yet the whole thing gives off a sense of being rushed and seems so surface level in its execution. That said, it should be noted that the creature design and CGI used to implement it is phenomenal and certainly belies it $6 million budget.
The coy flirting between Sigurd and Elisabeth is never truly delved into, while exploring the source of the characters’ ultimate predicament is completed in such a small window of time that it comes off as nothing more than a weak catalyst for it. In the end, it’s incredibly contrived, and something you’ve no doubt seen in countless films beforehand. Not a bad thing, mind you, but some added character development could have conceivably added a modicum of depth that the film otherwise lacked, as well as help offset the familiar vibe it gives off. It’s still fun, just incredibly predictable.
Ragnarok is a scaled down adventure story in the vein of The Goonies and Indiana Jones, and while it’s cute, and sweet, and delightful fun, it really isn’t much more than that. It features admirable performances, a great score, and dazzling effects, but it gives off the impression that it could have been more. As it stands, it’s a fun but fairly middle of the road watch.
3 out of 5