Eric Trapp’s review published on Letterboxd:
So this is one that I avoided a lot of marketing for to go in as fresh as possible and I think that came back to bite me in the ass. I was expecting this to be an ultra violent, revenge thriller. I was expecting muddy, viking John Wick with axes instead of guns. What I did not expect was for it to play as a long, medieval epic. Particularly because the first half of this movie really moves at quite a good clip. We’re moving, things are happening, shit’s crazy. And then the back half really slowed down for me save a few sequences that I won’t bring up bc spoilies. However, when meeting the movie on its own terms in this regard, I really love what it’s doing and enjoyed it quite a bit, pacing issues aside.
My other main gripe is that, to me personally, this movie didn’t feel even close to as “Eggers” as I would have liked. From a visual standpoint with its use of cg effects to how some parts of the story unfold and felt shoe-horned in to make it better fit the mold of a more “traditional” adult drama, it didn’t quite hit the same way as his last two films. And this could be due to anything! It could be him wanting to really go for a departure from his past works, being able to fully realize his vision with a much larger budget and a story larger in scale. Or it could be a result of him working in a more traditional, and probably more supervised/hands-on, studio system. At the end of the day though I am very happy that this guy can keep making movies and that people are giving him chances to tell all kinds of stories at different production levels, but this may not be to my preference as much.
I still really enjoyed my time with The Northman overall. The attention to historical detail is evident which is ALWAYS fascinating and immersive. The whole world feels steeped in this concoction of mud and magic and blood and it fucking rules. The production design is out of this world too and, along with the other historical details conveyed through the dialogue and story, really helped immediately immerse you in this specific space and time. Was happy to see some humorous moments too that really hit for me. All connected to that through-line of poking fun at, and examining the damaging effects of, toxic masculinity, generational cycles of violence and just how dumb our society’s stereotypical idea of “machismo” is. The cinematography is gorgeous as well, the performances are great, and some of the action sequences go extremely hard.
Oh! That’s actually another nitpick of mine that may relate to the studio intervention piece, but the violence felt pretty toned down to me! Definitely some graphic imagery, but for the most part it was always shown as a result of a fight, if that makes sense? The actual choreographed fights themselves felt pretty sterile at times with punches and shield bashes taking folks out rather than axes to brains. And if we did get an axe to a brain, it would happen just out of frame. With the film getting an R-rating anyway, it felt odd to me that it’d pull it’s punches in this way. But there’s also a part where The Northman catches a spear out of mid-air, twirls around and flings that shit right back at someone’s chest so who tf am I to complain?