‘The Northman’: Why Director Robert Eggers Is ‘Grateful’ for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

These days, it seems like every actor in Hollywood is popping up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Even director Robert Eggers’ bloody historical epic The Northman features a pair of MCU stars in Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man: No Way Home) and Ethan Hawke (Moon Knight). That might seem like the full extent of the MCU’s connection to The Northman. But Eggers confirms there is a more fundamental tie between them.

‘The Northman’ stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, director Robert Eggers, Willem Dafoe, and Anya Taylor-Joy embrace and pose on the red carpet
‘The Northman’ stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, director Robert Eggers, Willem Dafoe, and Anya Taylor-Joy | Emma McIntyre/WireImage

‘The Northman’ tells an uncompromising story about Viking vengeance

The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, a Viking prince who dedicates his life to avenging his father’s murder. Much like Eggers’ work on The Witch and The Lighthouse, the new movie has gotten lots of praise for its attention to detail. Eggers and his team drew inspiration from myths and legends but also real-life history.

And the efforts of the crew and cast — Skarsgård admitted how challenging filming was — certainly come across on the screen. The Northman carries with it Eggers’ specific vision and distinctive storytelling voice. But with such a visceral aesthetic and uncompromising tale of bloody revenge, how could the MCU factor into it?

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Director Robert Eggers credits Marvel Studios for helping his movie happen

The Northman draws upon Norse mythology, and thanks to the Thor movies, the MCU has largely shaped how mainstream audiences understand those characters and stories. Odin — played in the MCU by Anthony Hopkins — is even mentioned in Eggers’ movie. And the filmmaker told Slashfilm he’s grateful for the Marvel connection.

“Since Wagner put horns on helmets in his operas in the 19th century, pop culture has been reinventing Vikings to be whatever they want. I’m grateful these Marvel movies with Thor and Loki are popular right now. I’m even more grateful to the Vikings TV show and everything that spawned. But again, the popular image of a Viking that comes from that show, that is copied by all these other shows and video games, has nothing to do with Vikings, which is totally okay. I say in the press notes something absurd like, ‘I wanted to make the definitive Viking movie,’ but in a strange way because no one’s ever tried to make a historically accurate Viking movie aside from one tiny Icelandic film.”

To Eggers’ point, The Northman bears little resemblance to most Viking depictions. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out Marvel’s version of Norse mythology only boosts interest in Eggers’ movie. From a marketing perspective, the fact audiences have a passing knowledge or interest in Norse mythology only helps The Northman attract them.

Could ‘The Northman’ emerge as an awards contender in the year ahead?

Unlike Marvel’s upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, The Northman has an uphill battle ahead at the box office. The film’s strong reviews might inspired some moviegoers to check it out in theaters. But its reported $90 million price tag — according to The New Yorker — means the bloody action-thriller has a while before it gets out of the red.

But The Northman could see some success when Hollywood’s awards season comes around. After all, many pundits believe Eggers’ previous movies were snubbed in years prior. So perhaps, if nothing else, the Viking thriller can gain some solid traction when the Oscars roll around again.

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