An Ancient Special Ops Warrior Will Do Whatever It Takes to Complete the Mission in 'The Northman'

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Northman Alexander Skarsgard
Alexander Skarsgård stars in the Viking military thriller "The Northman." (Focus Features)

Fans of contemporary fictional spec ops warriors like former SEAL James Reece (Jack Carr's "Terminal List" series), CIA agent Mitch Rapp (Vince Flynn), Court Gentry (Mark Greaney's "Gray Man" series) or even Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan and John Clark know that all these men are driven by internal forces they can't ignore to complete their missions at any cost.

Of course, modern thrillers are grafting automatic weapons, grenades, surveillance drones and missiles onto ancient stories that usually employ knives or swords. "The Northman" is a movie that takes the bones of an ancient Viking legend and uses them to build a story about a ruthless operator out to avenge his father's throne.

"The Northman" opens in theaters on April 22, 2022.

Director Robert Eggers decided to tell this story after meeting Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård, who'd been trying for years to make a movie based on the Scandinavian legends of his childhood. Skarsgård is best known for his role on the HBO series "True Blood," but he's had some previous action experience in the Iraq War series "Generation Kill" and as Randall Flagg in the recent series remake of Stephen King's "The Stand."

Skarsgård is ripped as Amleth, a prince forced to flee his home after seeing his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke, "Moon Knight"), murdered by his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang, "The Last Vermeer"). Once his uncle kidnaps his mother. Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman, "Big Little Lies"), the young Amleth vows to fulfill the promise he made to his father that he would avenge him after death.

Of course, he's just a kid who's trying to survive a trauma, and he's mostly forgotten that vow when we pick up 20 years later. Adult Amleth has become a Viking berserker, carrying out raids on behalf of his commander and afterward gathering around the fire for some chest-beating, warrior chanting and howling at the moon.

Eggers is the director who made "The Witch," the 2015 horror movie about 17th-century New England witch lore, and he doesn't skimp on the supernatural in "The Northman." There are mysterious seers, witches, incantations and hallucinations of the future fueled by potions brewed over a campfire. Since anthropologists and military historians have speculated that ancient warriors were all hopped up on something strong as they headed into battle, the ghosts and spells portion of the story may fit more into the real world of the times than we'd realize.

Amleth's quest is fueled by a meeting with a blind seer played by the Icelandic singer Björk. She reminds him of his vow, and the prince sets out to locate his mom and hold Uncle Fjölnir accountable. Going undercover as a slave, he's sold to Fjölnir and meets fellow slave Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy, "The Queen's Gambit," "The Witch") on the journey.

Fjölnir couldn't keep the crown he stole from his brother, so the family is sheep farming in a remote location. Amleth embarks on a stealth mission designed to inflict maximum terror on Fjölnir's family before revealing his true identity.

The combat is up close and relentless throughout the movie. Sharp blades can do terrifying damage to the human body, and "The Northman" emphasizes the kind of blood and viscera that action movies usually neglect to show. If the trailer embedded above doesn't convince you, have a look at the age-restricted red band trailer.

Amleth does everything he must to keep his mission on track, no matter how heartless. He's going to uncover the secrets of his family and avenge his father's throne to fulfill his vow, no matter what the cost. Once Fjölnir sees him coming, the movie's final climax is inevitable.

Eggers shot much of the movie on locations in Iceland, and the scenery is as spectacular as anything ever captured for a feature film. The actors report that the filming was cold, muddy and wet, but that everyone knew the footage captured would be worth the discomfort.

"The Northman" was a very expensive movie to make, and it's definitely not for all audiences. The representation of combat will be too intense for some, especially since all the killing is of the hand-to-hand variety. If you're looking for a movie that's both thrilling and a serious look at the psychic consequences of battle, then "The Northman" is a movie you shouldn't miss.

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