‘The Northman’ Movie Review: Robert Eggers Takes Alexander Skarsgård on a Viking Journey

The Northman explores the tragic journey of a Viking who seeks vengeance. Writer/director Robert Eggers makes an impressive return with his biggest movie yet after making The Witch and The Lighthouse. However, he takes audiences on a slow-burn dramatic adventure that feels truly epic, haunting, and impactful.

‘The Northman’ is a story of vengeance and destiny

'The Northman' Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth shirtless covered in blood holding a weapon in each hand
Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth | Focus Features

The story begins with Amleth (Oscar Novak, Alexander Skarsgård) as a young boy on the verge of becoming a man. However, his entire life changes when his uncle, Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang), murders the boy’s father, Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), and kidnaps his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). However, Amleth manages to barely escape with his life, unknown to his surviving family.

Two decades later, The Northman picks up with a grown-up Amleth. He’s now a Viking who raids Slavic villages and is no stranger to combat. He crosses paths with the Seeress (Björk), who reminds him of the promise that he made to himself all of those years ago – to save his mother, kill his uncle, and avenge his father.

Writer/director Robert Eggers tackles Viking mysticism

The Northman contains a father-son story at its core. Young Amleth looks up to his father and puts him up on a pedestal. However, he goes through a rediscovery process when he loses that paternal figure in his life. Eggers and Sjón’s screenplay digs into a primal sense of Viking masculinity. Amleth’s masculinity is both his greatest strength and weakness, forcing him to confront his trauma on a very personal level.

Eggers and Sjón’s screenplay establishes the fragility in nobility. The life of royalty comes with power and certain luxuries, but it’s always at risk. The Northman unveils Amleth’s survival, as his uncle thrives with the new family and a sense of order that he put into place. However, Fjölnir even realizes that what he took from his brother might not last forever and seeks to instill that message into his own children.

Betrayal is at the core of The Northman. Fjölnir commits the horrible crime of killing his brother and attempting to murder his nephew, but this theme weaves through many other elements throughout the film. Every character has their own motivations, but some of them ultimately work toward the same goal. Amleth meets Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), who develops something deeper with him. However, it becomes clear that humanity is the true evil.

‘The Northman’ is an absorbing experience with a stellar cast

'The Northman' Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún wearing a white costume with a guard standing behind her
Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún | Focus Features

‘The Northman’: Alexander Skarsgård Was ‘Shackled’ and ‘Dragged’ Through the Mud on Set

Eggers created a fully-realized world in The Northman. Stunt coordinator Jón Viðar Arnþórsson and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke work with the filmmaker to breathe life into astonishing action sequences. Eggers presents the war scenes in long takes, allowing the viewer to take it all in. However, Skarsgård’s grizzled look instantly draws the eye in nearly every scene, placing him as the centerpiece.

The Northman hosts a stunning cast of impressive performances. Willem Dafoe and Björk have some of the smaller roles in the movie, but they still remain memorable. Each actor brings something unique to the film, but Skarsgård, Kidman, and Taylor-Joy have some of the most material to work with and they don’t disappoint. Skarsgård goes full primal, while Kidman delivers some of her best work.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Amleth and Olga doesn’t entire blossom. The Northman has urgent stakes that feel substantial, although this segment could use some breathing room. It’s a bit rushed compared to the personal journey that Amleth takes over the course of the movie. On the bright side, every character has a chance to shine individually. However, sometimes the relationships between them are a tad underbaked.

The Northman displays how thin the line is between love and hate. Eggers and Sjón align beast and spirit through characterizations that are beautifully defined. The Northman is a mystical waking nightmare of drama, adventure, and horror that combine into something truly dark, bewitching, and visceral.

The Northman travels into theaters on April 22.