Robert Eggers’s latest film, ‘The Northman,’ is a deep dive into Viking mythology.

“The Northman,” an ambitious deep dive into a 10th-century Viking myth from Robert Eggers, is many movies at once: bold and beautiful, gory and utterly insane, it marks a visionary and visceral climax in the post-” Game of Thrones” series. The action-fantasy draw of Thrones, whose main metric of success seems to be racking up as many beheadings, blood feuds, and examples of medieval arcana as possible, “was always a commentary on man’s inhumanity to man.”

All of those boxes are duly checked in “The Northman,” with results that are alternately impressive and stupid. Alexander Skarsgard, who conceived the film with Eggers, plays Amleth, who was heir to the kingdom of his father, Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) until his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) arrived on the scene. After witnessing the brutal murder of his father, the dispossessed prince adopts a mantra that he will repeat throughout “The Northman”: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjolnir.

A little on the nose, but that’s okay. For more than two hours, “The Northman” chronicles Amleth’s search, which takes him from the North Atlantic to the Slavic land of Rus and Iceland. Viewers who have noticed the narrative scaffolding of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” will have a vague notion of how it all turns out.

But there are still surprises in a film that draws from a wide range of sources, including old Sophocles. The mother Amleth seeks to rescue, a Botticelli-haired queen named Gudrun, is played by Nicole Kidman in a slyly subversive twist. She owns one of “The Northman’s” most dazzling investments, in a scene that demonstrates once again why she might be the most adventurous actress of her generation. (Even amid a jumble of accents that sound like they come from every Gucci house, the performances in “The Northman” are uniformly excellent, especially when it comes to Bang’s interloper and his own titled eldest son, played by Gustav Lindh with the unpleasantly convincing threat.)

Fans of Eggers, who made a hugely promising debut in 2015 with “The Witch,” followed by the bizarre two-handed movie “The Lighthouse” in 2019, know the director is something of a fetishist: He’s fascinated by ritual, mysticism. runic and physical mortification, as well as visual compositions that favour firelight, shadows, and bravura camerawork. The director has called “The Northman” a cross between “Andrei Rublev” and “Conan the Barbarian,” and that high-low aesthetic is very much in play. Eggers channels the great Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in scenes of startling historical detail, patient observation, and mind-boggling strangeness. Early in the film, Ameth and her father, played with impressive ferocity by Hawke, participate in an initiation ritual that involves them crawling on all fours and howling like dogs; visions build throughout a film that at one point features Icelandic singer Bjork as a “seer” cloaked in cowrie shells, feathers, and stalks of wheat.

As flashy and elaborate as the visuals in “The Northman” are, there are plenty of sequences that revert strictly to the pulpy kind of B-movie. As heir to films as recent as “The Green Knight” and “The Last Duel” (no mention of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Valhalla Rising,” “The Northman” handsomely rewards fans of the sword-and-vandal genre, even if it leaves the rest of us in bludgeoned, bewildered amazement. Whether in the form of tribal battles, hand-to-hand combat, or even a brief game of primitive rugby, the bestial growls, bellows, and impalements never cease in a world of birthright, honour, and aggression that seems to have sprung from Robert’s imagination. Bly at his most feverish.

I promised myself I wouldn’t use the term “toxic masculinity” in this review (oops), but that concept forms an unmistakable ostinato in “The Northman,” which Eggers co-wrote with Icelandic novelist and poet Sjon. Not only does Gudrun exemplify a particularly avant-garde brand of female strength and agency, but Amleth eventually becomes ambivalent about what he calls “the frozen river of hate that runs through my veins,” primarily with the help of a female slave resembling a sylph named Olga (Anya Taylor). -Happiness). “Your strength breaks the bones of men,” Olga tells him. “I have the cunning to break their minds.”

That feminist nod is but a punctuation point in a story that laments the suffering caused by atavistic patterns of aggrieved and insecure men seeking to prove themselves by fighting, raping and drinking. It’s impossible to watch “The Northman” and not think of the Ukraine, where another variation on a timeless theme unfolds in a modern Rus’ Land with sadistic futility.

Still, as much as Eggers may think he’s criticizing such self-serving cruelty and superstition, he indulges his vicarious emotions with far more enthusiasm and voyeuristic extravagance. Blood, gore, honour, and revenge will always be the oldest staples of cinematic grammar, no matter how cleverly they are undermined. Ultimately, “The Northman” isn’t just about fatalism at its most epic and overwrought, it also suffers from it. ‘Twas always like that. In theatres in the area. Contains strong bloody violence, some sexual scenes and nudity. 136 minutes.

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