‘The Northman’: What Critics Think About Alexander Skarsgård’s Epic

Period movies often divided audiences and critics. So The Northman — director Robert Eggers’ third movie — could face a similar polarizing reaction as his previous two movies. Both 2015’s The Witch and 2019’s The Lighthouse received largely warm critical receptions but left some horror movie fans cold. The Northman represents a shift in genre for Eggers. So going into its release, what is the critical consensus on the Alexander Skarsgård-led epic?

Edith Bowman, Robert Eggers, Sjón, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Alexander Skarsgård on stage in front of ‘The Northman’ poster
Edith Bowman, Robert Eggers, Sjón, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Alexander Skarsgård | Jeff Spicer

Robert Eggers’ movies tend to be divisive

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Witch earned a 90 percent Fresh rating from critics but only a 59 percent rating for its audience score. The Lighthouse matched its predecessors with 90 percent on the Tomatometer and performed a bit better with audiences at 72 percent. But much of that reaction is perhaps caused by the expectations fans bring to modern horror. After all, few would excuse either of Eggers’ first movies of following the current trends.

Where then does that leave The Northman? As of this writing, the movie has yet to hit theaters. So its audience score remains a mystery. But critics seem to approve of Eggers’ latest movie. The Northman — which is steeped in literature and Viking lore — has thus far earned an 88 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus calls it a “breathtaking visual marvel,” which retains Eggers’ signature style despite the larger scope.

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Critics are largely positive on ‘The Northman’

Looking a bit more closely at Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics, some consider The Northman to be Eggers’ most accomplished work to date. Katie Walsh of the Tribune News Service calls it “melodrama and murder and mayhem and witchcraft. It’s everything Robert Eggers does best on the biggest scale, and it’s his best film yet.” Likewise, Carlos Aguilar of The Playlist calls it “a staggering feat of visceral filmmaking” that “warrants profound analysis while still delivering a high-octane action odyssey.”

Robert Daniels of RogerEbert.com said, “Eggers’ brand of psychological shock is bolder here than his prior works and potent in bursts, but barely works on boldness alone.” And Bloody Disgusting‘s Meagan Navarro echoes how the filmmaker’s flair shines through, writing “Eggers’ commitment to maintaining period accuracy and influences makes for a visual feast but binds it narratively. The mesmerizing style and mysticism ensure its deeply engrossing.”

Some don’t love Alexander Skarsgård’s film

However, despite the widespread acclaim, not every top critic is a fan of The Northman. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker calls it “at once overwhelming and curiously uninvolving.” And Kristy Puchko of Mashable writes, “Eggers’s execution feels hollow, capturing the horror but undercutting the heart.” Variety‘s Peter Debruge notes The Northman is “ultimately rather dull and hardly any fun.”

Times critic Kevin Maher echoes as much, calling the movie “a one-note fiasco and a foam-flecked depiction of cartoon machismo from a filmmaker who should’ve known better.” Mark Hanson from Slant Magazine credits Eggers’ broader canvas, but the movie’s “psychological chaos hasn’t expanded accordingly.” And Seattle Times‘ Scott Greenstone proclaims it is “fettered to the ground by the demands of the studio gods.”

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