Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Sjon and Robert Eggers
Epic historical films are often hit or miss. With great classics like Ben Hur (1959), Alexander (2004), and the visually stunning 300 (2006); you will still have a huge pile of subpar films like Pearl Harbor (2001). Often it comes down to how characters are written and portrayed. People need to identify and connect to the protagonist and loathe the antagonist. Writers and directors will often go two general paths; Reinvent the story or stay true to the original. I feel these writers tried to stay very true to the source materials and this may be the way this film falters with modern-day audiences. As a writer, you should feel free to take some liberties to deliver a strong story. Even if it is a simple story of revenge. Going into a film expecting many epic Viking battles you instead get something entirely different.
Here comes the spoilers.
A young prince Amleth and his mother Queen Gudrun welcome his father back home after a long time away on conquests. The king takes his son to a spiritual ceremony to prepare him for becoming king one day. The next morning they wake up to the king’s brother, Fjolnir, and his men who promptly kill the king and chase after the prince. HE escapes to run back to his home to see Fjolnir carrying away his mother. Flash forward to years later, Amleth lives with a group of Vikings. We get our first battle sequence and Amleth sees a Seeress in a temple who tells him he will take his revenge and that his path is intertwined with a maiden-king. Amleth then discovers that Fjolnir is exiled to Iceland. Amleth poses as a slave to join the workers at Fjolnir’s farm where he finds out his mother is married to Fjolnir and has born him a son.
He encounters an old magic user who tells him of a magical sword which he gets after defeating an undead warrior to get it. This scene is handled poorly as you never really know what reality is or what is in the imagination. What magical properties does the sword have? Never explained. Never demonstrated. He causes great distress to Fjolnir and his family and as soon as he gains their trust he makes his attack and stops short of killing his mother, but kills the oldest son of Fjolnir and takes his heart. The next day he has to give over his heart to spare the life of Olga, a woman he is in love with. After a severe beating, he gets freed by ravens which again may not have been real. Olga takes him and they escape unto a boat. Amleth has a vision that Olga is pregnant with twins and one will be the maiden-king. He jumps out of the bot to go back to kill Fjolnir as he realizes as long as Fjolnir is alive he will always try to kill his future kids.
Amleth kills everyone including his mother and her youngest son. Fjolnir arrives to see the dead bodies of his wife and son and he tells Amleth they will settle their conflict at the Gate of Hell, located at a nearby volcano. They end up fighting there and Fjolnir is decapitated and Amleth is mortally wounded. As he is dying he sees a future vision of Olga with their twin children. Then he is carried away by a Valkyrie through the gates of Valhalla.
Now first off the visuals are stunning. The landscapes are also beautiful. I feel the film falls apart with the subdued and sometimes stoic performance of Alexander Skarsgard. The one neat idea the story had was the Queen’s revelation that she was a slave to Amleth’s father and he was the result of a rape. Perhaps having him at this point forward look back at childhood memories and seeing things with an adult set of eyes makes the childhood memories not seem as normal as he once thought. He saw his father as a kind and fun man when in reality he was more likely a tyrannical monster. It would make him question his quest for revenge and perhaps see Fjolnir as not as bad of a man as he first thought. This would introduce great complexity to the simple story of revenge. Just a few flashbacks and viola, you get the purpose behind the stoic looks and subdued performance by the actor. It isn’t a lack of emotion or a focused drive for revenge. You have a man torn between what he grew up believing to finding out a truth and destroying everything he believed to be true. That is the missing part of the story the writers should have taken liberty with. Everything else can stay the same. Just when he jumps out of the boat, he is doing so now more so for protecting his kids and bloodline than he is for revenge.
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