Northmen (UK Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Claudio Fah
Distributed by Entertainment One
On their way to go a-plundering in Lindisfarne, a group of exiled Viking warriors led by would-be ruler Asbjorn (Hopper) find themselves off course and stranded on the coast of Scotland when their longboat is destroyed in a vicious storm. Trapped behind enemy lines, the group decides that their only hope is to reach the friendly settlement of Danelaw – but it isn’t very long before they’re spotted by hostile forces and a battle ensues.
In the wake of the fighting, the Vikings carry with them the princess Inghean (Murphy), daughter of the ruthless King Dunchaid. Hoping to use her as leverage for safe passage and ransom, the gang press forward on their journey. Unfortunately for them, however, King Dunchaid is a bit more of a bastard than they expected, and he unleashes the Wolf Pack – a group of highly trained Carpathian mercenaries – with orders to kill not only his Viking adversaries, but his daughter as well.
Along the way, Asbjorn and crew happen upon hermitic druid Conall (Kwanten), a Christian monk who also happens to be extremely adept when it comes to kicking the living shit out of people with athletic style. Following an encounter with the ruthless Wolf Pack, Conall agrees to aid the Vikings and princess in their quest to reach Danelaw – and so begins the chase across picturesque landscapes and rocky mountains as swords clash, arrows fly and numbers dwindle.
Claudio Fah’s Northmen is a film that, on the surface, offers little new to the ‘chase movie’ game beyond its Viking theme (it feels very similar to Roar Uthuag’s 2012 film Escape), but that’s actually rarely an issue given the swift pacing, enjoyable characters and engaging aesthetic of the flick. Shooting locations in South Africa actually stand in very well for the Scottish coast, and some breathtaking vistas, crisp woodland and impressive settings for the action (for example a rope bridge over a massive gorge) create a sense of scale that the humble sensibilities of the core story lack. It’s a great-looking flick, feeling just a few steps away from a grandiose epic in the same manner that Michael J. Bassett’s Solomon Kane adaptation did.
The action is well choreographed and fluidly shot, and there’s enough blood spatter and sword-on-flesh action to keep those who can’t stand bloodless medieval action happy, though Northmen also has a real sense of weirdness about it. Very central elements of the story feel strangely out of place and under-explained – for example, Inghean is revealed to have soothsaying abilities, receiving visual and auditory messages from the earth itself to warn her and her new protectors of the impending arrival of a threat. This magical/supernatural element is thrown in alongside the more grounded stance that the film establishes early on with nary an eyebrow raised.
Next to that is Kwanten’s character, Conall, who shoots straight off the weirdness scale with his realisation as a Christian monk who seems entirely styled on Buddhism and trained in Eastern martial arts. On the face of it, it’s all over the place – but it’s perhaps testament to Fah’s storytelling skills that it doesn’t see Northmen come completely undone by any means.
Besides, there’s little point in complaining about any of it when the return of the Viking group’s Berzerker from a particular feat of battle fury comes as a welcome stretch of believability simply because the character is so much fun to have around.
Performances across the board are perfectly fine, even if Ed Skrein’s turn as lead villain Hjorr is more pantomime-y and less interesting on a character level than his second-in-command, Anatole Taubman as Bovarr. There’s the requisite amount of in-fighting amongst the Vikings, with the morally steadfast Asbjorn butting heads with some of the others over their more repugnant intentions for their captive lady, but things rarely push very hard in that direction – mostly ending with a short verbal burst or waving of a weapon as means of keeping in check. In short – nothing far beyond what you’d expect.
And that’s pretty much what sums up Northmen – it isn’t ground-breaking, it isn’t a highly original take on the chase film. But it’s a very entertaining one. Filled with enough testosterone-fuelled action, punchy set-pieces, humorous touches, scowling and eye candy to keep itself standing even if the more off-kilter elements threaten to drag it down.
If you’re looking for a fun popcorn flick to fill an evening with grunting, punching and bloody swordplay at an exciting pace (and Ryan Kwanten in quite possibly the strangest role you’ll ever see him take on) then you really can’t go wrong.
Entertainment One brings Northmen to UK DVD sporting a selection of behind the scenes featurettes that explore the locations, characters and action sequences and scoring of the film while offering interview snippets with various members of the cast and crew. Each segment is short and light, coming in all together at a total of around 11 minutes, but it does feel like just enough material to satisfy. Fans of legendary Viking metal band ‘Amon Amarth’ will likely feel some disappointment for lead singer Johan Hegg, who makes his film debut here and spends some time in the extras talking about his positive experiences on set and shooting his scenes, only to end up in the finished film for all of five minutes, with one line of dialogue, before meeting his end.
- Behind the Scenes
- Don’t Mess With the Northmen
- Northmen in Action
- Tune up the Northmen
- Vikings vs. Wolves