The Northman First Reviews: Bold, Unflinching, Visually Breathtaking

Critics say Robert Eggers' Viking revenge tale boasts his trademark mysticism and sense of atmosphere, but it's a brutal, invigorating spectacle that's his most accessible film yet.

by | April 11, 2022 | Comments

Robert Eggers, the bold visionary behind The Witch and The Lighthouse, is back with another ambitiously accurate period piece in The Northman. Starring Alexander Skarsgård as a Hamlet-esque Viking and Nicole Kidman as his mother, it is said to be the filmmaker’s most accessible yet, in part because it’s an historical action movie with a relatively sizable budget. The first reviews of The Northman are mostly very positive, with critics highlighting the performances and the craftsmanship, which come together in a spectacular blockbuster unlike any we’ve gotten in a long time.

Here’s what critics are saying about The Northman:

Is this one of the most unique films of the year?

It’s been a minute since we had something like it. It’s bold, gritty, and just downright awesome. – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

While it’s a story you’ve seen before, you’ve never seen it like this. – Germain Lussier,

It is invigorating to see a studio-backed piece that is allowed to be uncompromisingly grim and savage. – Michelle Kisner, The Movie Sleuth

Among the best films I’ve seen in the last few years. It’s a stone-cold masterpiece. – Chris Bumbray, JoBlo’s Movie Network

The Northman feels unusually thin, with less meat on its bones than 2007’s schlocky Pathfinder or your basic Conan movie. – Peter Debruge, Variety

How does it compare to Robert Eggers’ other films?

A considerable step up in scope. – Jordan Raup, The Film Stage

With The Northman, he delivers what might be his most grounded and straightforward story thus far. – Patrick Cavanaugh,

It makes the freaky artisanal horror that put director Robert Eggers on the map — The Witch and The Lighthouse — look like Disney movies. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

It’s less resonant than Eggers’ debut film, The Witch. – Katie Rife, Polygon

If there’s one thing The Northman is missing from the rest of Eggers’ oeuvre, it is that lack of madness that made parts of The Witch and The Lighthouse almost feel like a catharsis. – Ross Bonaime, Collider

It lacks the element of surprise that made The Witch and The Lighthouse feel like instant classics. – Peter Debruge, Variety

Director Robert Eggers on the set of The Northman (2022)

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/©Focus Features)

Will mainstream audiences enjoy it?

They will. Because this is the kind of filmmaking that rips you out of your body so hard that you’re liable to forget what year it is. – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

It’s his most accessible, and certainly the most exciting… The Northman isn’t a movie for everybody, but it’s the Robert Eggers movie that’s probably for the widest audience. – Germain Lussier,

Eggers’ most accessible film yet… though the bone-crunching gore and dashes of cosmic mystery prevent The Northman from being anything close to “mainstream.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

The Northman is destined to be a bit of a cult favorite, but it may also have a chance at more. – Joey Magidson, Awards Radar

Eggers, who let his freak flag fly with A24, has reverted to a more conventional mode for this relatively mainstream Focus Features release, eschewing the elevated language of The Lighthouse. – Peter Debruge, Variety

Will it appeal to fans of history and historical epics?

Meticulously researched, it makes other Viking shows and movies look cartoonish by comparison. – Chris Bumbray, JoBlo’s Movie Network

The sets and costumes crafted by Eggers regulars Craig Lathrop and Linda Muir put any of the film’s contemporaries to shame (yes, even Gladiator… especially Gladiator). – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

In terms of making history exciting and engrossing, The Northman is about as titillating as gateway drugs get. – Katie Rife, Polygon

What other comparisons does The Northman invite?

It’s as if The Green Knight got passed through a “bro” filter. – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

It’s an audaciously bonkers movie that keeps threatening to careen off into some kind of weird no man’s land where Game of Thrones meets Monty Python and the Holy Grail. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Feels more like a heavy-metal music video, a testosterone-fueled melange of fire, blood, nudity, and screaming, fueled by hatred and hallucinatory shamanic rituals. – Katie Rife, Polygon

This [Shakespearean] drama very much takes Amleth away from the thespian green room and simplifies the story along Lion King lines (no Hakuna Matata though). – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

The movie that The Northman most resembles is The Revenant, an impressively orchestrated marathon of misery that prioritized directorial skill over audience engagement. – Peter Debruge, Variety

Alexander Skarsgård in The Northman (2022)

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/©Focus Features)

How is Alexander Skarsgård in the lead?

Skarsgård has never been better or more suited to a role. – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

Prince Amleth is the hunky, heroically vengeful killing machine with a heart that Skarsgård was born to play. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Alexander Skarsgård’s Amleth should become his definitive role. It’s one of those unforgettable performances that seems bound to be iconic. – Chris Bumbray, JoBlo’s Movie Network

A superb Skarsgård balances the bodily vigorousness required with the shattered innocence that defines his part. – Carlos Aguilar, The Playlist

Muscles only go so far to compensate for the strange emptiness behind young Skarsgård’s eyes. – Peter Debruge, Variety

Will it particularly delight True Blood fans?

Longtime fans will get a kick out of him tapping into the cultural roots of his ancient True Blood vampire, Eric Northman, too. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

It’s truly a full-circle moment. – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

How is Nicole Kidman?

It’s a role that truly highlights the range that Kidman is capable of. – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

Kidman delivers some of her best work. – Jeff Nelson, Showbiz Cheat Sheet

It’s Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún who really steals the show. She has some incredibly intense, emotionally complex moments, and you believe every second. – Germain Lussier,

She delivers a performance so feral it seems to shake the very foundations of the frame she inhabits. – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

Kidman is a hoot, juggling fire and ice in an enjoyably over-the-top turn. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Nicole Kidman in The Northman (2022)

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/©Focus Features)

How is the action?

The fight sequences are incredible. Meticulously choreographed and shot with purpose. The battles are bloody and intense. It’s not overly stylized. – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

The choreography of the combat scenes — both the staging and the shooting, in long, unbroken takes — is mind-blowing. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Like a grim, grounded war movie, in which the battle scenes play out in a slow, weighty, almost plodding manner, meticulously choreographed to be as brutish and realistic as possible. – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

The inevitable final showdown [is] one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on film. It’s as if George Lucas filmed the finale of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith for real. – Germain Lussier,

There’s a brilliant set piece where Eggers shoots a Berserker siege in a single, unbroken take that will be discussed for years to come. – Chris Bumbray, JoBlo’s Movie Network

The Northman is never dull. The sheer muscularity of Eggers’ direction denies it that chance… also, someone gets decapitated like every 10 minutes. – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

How does the movie look?

Visually, The Northman is breathtaking combining beautiful vistas with fantastical imagery. – Michelle Kisner, The Movie Sleuth

Visually, The Northman is stunning, with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke boosting the film’s color palette with variations on light, shadow, and striking gray tones. – Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

Blaschke’s cinematography is also noteworthy for its approach to instances of grace, coating them in either dazzling moonlight or the fantastical color palette of the northern lights. – Carlos Aguilar, The Playlist

Your jaw is so often left gaping in awe from its stunning cinematography and in terror from its ferocity to the point you might just resign yourself to keeping it open for the duration of the film. – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

The Northman’s landscape imagery feels like a step down for a filmmaker who once seemed intent on imbuing his settings with an unnerving sense of character. – Mark Hanson, Slant Magazine

Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Northman (2022)

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/©Focus Features)

Are there any major problems?

Fissures do present themselves — not least of all a recurring CG-heavy vision of a family tree that plays like unnecessary connect-the-dots material to appease a wider audience. – Jordan Raup, The Film Stage

It’s somewhat disappointing that The Northman reveals itself to be so programmatic… Eggers’s film is sometimes frustratingly shackled to the obligations of plot. – Mark Hanson, Slant Magazine

The Northman lacks a sense of nuance in its characters and in its story… It barely scratches the surface of its story, leaving the audience with crumbs rather than a full feast. – Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

Every character has a chance to shine individually. However, sometimes the relationships between them are a tad underbaked. – Jeff Nelson, Showbiz Cheat Sheet

The Scandinavian accents coming out of the mouths of actors like Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Ethan Hawke risk bringing on a House of Gucci trauma relapse. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The pacing has a rocky start. – Catalina Combs, Black Girl Nerds

Is this the kind of alternative blockbuster we need right now?

What Eggers has ambitiously crafted lands as an invigorating beacon for an industry in need of studio fare with substantial ideas and artistry. – Carlos Aguilar, The Playlist

The film makes you appreciate how seldom we get to see a big, noisy, brawling spectacle these days that’s grounded not in comic-book superheroes and villains but in culturally specific history. – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The simple fact that financiers had the chutzpah to bankroll such a big swing in the face of our blockbuster-or-bust theatrical climate would have felt like a (pyrrhic) victory against the forces of corporate homogenization, no matter who was behind the camera. – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

In a wide release landscape of easy-to-please, vaporous entertainment, such feats should be celebrated. – Jordan Raup, The Film Stage

It’s a big risk to spend that much cash on an auteur-driven historical epic at a time when historical epics have largely fallen by the wayside. But what a beautiful risk it is. I call upon Odin: may The Northman make a billion dollars. – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

The Northman opens in theaters on April 22, 2022.

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