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A Viking Mess – Northmen: A Viking Saga Movie Review

“Make no tent on thy ship,
Never sleep in the house,
For a for within door you may view,
On his shield sleeps the Viking,
His sword in his hand
And his tent is the heavenly blue,
When storm rages,
Hoist a sail to the top,
Oh how merry the storm king appears,
Let her drive, let her drive,
Better founder than strike,
For who strikes is a slave to his fears”
~ Friðþjófs saga

(The opening lines from this film are a “Viking code”, from the Icelandic Friðþjófs saga, based on an Old Norse tale. Read the full poem here

Another weekend, another medieval movie. This time, we’re transported back to the late ninth, early tenth century, during the time of King Harald Finehair of Norway (850-932). A story about stranded Vikings fighting for their lives, while on a quest to get to a Viking settlement with a beautiful woman in tow, and a ninja-style fighting Christian monk. Sounds completely plausible, right?

First, let me start off by saying, that while yes, this is a bad movie, it’s not the worst I’ve seen and I didn’t want to turn it off and run screaming through the wall as I have with many of the other movies I’ve reviewed here. While I was annoyed by the historical inaccuracies, bad dialogue and fantasy meets reality mash-up, I knew that reality going was out the window the second I saw Ryan Kwanten (i.e., Jason Stackhouse of True Blood fame) playing a swashbuckling monk. I really wanted this to be good, and it started out with promise but then progressively went downhill. It’s too bad because they had the beginnings of something here.

Northmen: A Viking Saga. Photo by Variety.com

Northmen: A Viking Saga. Photo by Variety.com

The Story
A band of Vikings get caught in a gale and end up shipwrecked. They’d been aiming to raid Lindisfarne (but of course, it’s the “go-to” Viking raiding destination) but appear to have washed up on the shores of Scotland.

After surviving their harrowing journey, the find they have to battle for their lives against the armed soldiers of King Dunchaid, played by Danny Keogh (Black Sails, Capetown). Dunchaid doesn’t exist, he’s a mash-up of medieval Irish and Scottish kings, unless they meant King Duncan (as in Macbeth’s Duncan) but he was about one hundred years too late for this story to make sense.

After dispatching the soldiers of the imaginary Scottish King, they come across a coach, and inside is a feisty Scottish woman. Asbjörn, the apparent Viking leader, played by Tom Hopper (Merlin, Black Sails) decides they need to take her to her father, since Jormund played by Leo Gregory (The Musketeers, Wild Bill) notices she is wealthy and may fetch a good ransom. Turns out she’s Inghean, the daughter of Dunchaid, and she was being transported to her wedding celebration. Inghean, played by Irish actress Charlie Murphy (The Last Kingdom, ’71) is really nothing more than a prop; the marker in a lethal game of ‘capture the flag’ played by the Scottish mercenaries and the Vikings. She’s also been thrown in to offer some kind of Stockholm Syndrome romantic tension between her and Asbjörn, but it never gets off the ground.

“You’re not that dumb for a Christian” ~ Asbjörn
“And you’re not that clever for Viking” ~ Conall

Along the way, they come across a monk, Conall. He’s apparently “cursed” after orchestrating a disaster between the Picts and the Scots, where the Picts were slaughtered. Wracked with guilt, he fled his order and lives in a remote tower fighting whoever crosses his path, and collecting their weapons as trophies. It’s an utterly ridiculous character. There was nothing remotely Christian or monk-like about him other than the cross around his neck, it was more like imitation Yoda meets Aragorn.

Conall helps Asbjörn and his men escape the pursuit of Dunchaid’s cronies, led by a constantly snarling, Hjorr, played by Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones, Deadpool). The “wolf pack”, as they are called, annoyingly howl every so often and wear skull helmets. Hjorr, who is a deranged psychopath, decides to bring Inghean back dead because she will still fetch a good price. Hjorr’s character was awful, silly and boring – definitely my least favourite onscreen. The Vikings at least managed to pull off a few funny lines of banter here and there, but the wolf pack and Hjorr weren’t frightening or intimidating. Hjorr was over acted to be a tough guy, mercenary and came off comical. I couldn’t take the character seriously.  Cue clichéd fight scenes, and lots of stalking around while growling threats.

Northmen: A Viking Saga movie poster.

Northmen: A Viking Saga movie poster.

The Verdict
There are some decent scenes, a couple of funny lines scattered here and there, and the cinematography is stunning, but it’s not enough to make it a good movie. The backdrop is what saves the movie from being terrible, but again, scenery isn’t enough to save this mess.

While this isn’t the worst out there compared to some other films, it’s certainly something I’d give a pass to unless you really love Ryan Kwanten or Tom Hopper. Even then, Kwanten, who I like as an actor, is poorly cast here. It’s a misfire if there ever was one. Asbjörn is an OK character but comes across as too indecisive and soft. He doesn’t inspire as a leader of a fearsome Viking band. The rest are cookie cutter Vikings, i.e., the old angry warrior who clearly wanted a part as a dwarf in The Hobbit, the loyal Viking, the hardened, bitter guy who has seen too much…I could go on, but you get the point.

In the end, there’s not really much to see here except bad costumes, bad dialogue, and mediocre fight scenes. It’s basically a chase movie set in early medieval Scotland with Vikings and guys in skull helmets who like to howl. Better luck next week, this is a pass.

~Sandra Alvarez

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