Let’s be ponderous.
I’m going to get emails for this one.
Robert Eggers’ third film is almost a complete misfire as we follow Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) in this would-be Hamlet 1.0 tale. Amleth witnesses his father be murdered by his uncle, who then takes his mother as his bride. Simba swears revenge and narrowly escapes as a child.
Cut to some years later and Simba has forgotten his mission and is now a marauding viking warrior who works with a larger group to collect slaves. He is then reminded of his mission in one of the more interesting scenes with an eyeless witch, and decides to masquerade as a slave to get close to his uncle. Once he arrives, he chooses to not immediately kill his uncle, but would rather haunt the estate and delay action to fulfill a vague prophecy.
Before picking on the film too much, it looks great. The style and sets are fantastic. This might be enough to carry viewers through, but it wasn’t for me. A technical feat for sure, but the narrative leaves a bit to be desired.
Amleth as a character isn’t that interesting, and he may as well should have been a silent protagonist. So often he only communicates with mumbled grunts that it seems like there is little for him to say. It is like they wanted the lack of decision making from Hamlet but without the soul searching reasons behind it. This is Hamlet without depth.
The film went through a troubled editing process and had much of the dialogue redone, which explains a lot. I think the producers wanted an action film and Eggers wanted something more contemplative. We end up with neither. I’m not sure why this one has been so popular as it simply drags out. The characters are predictable and annoyingly indecisive. Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems to be the only character with a functioning brain, but defaults to Simba’s wishes to delay, delay, and wait. The forced romance between the two is so stilted that the two offer a “let’s tell the audience how we feel” exchange at a hot spring that has the same emotional heft of ordering a coffee.
What annoys me the most is how wasted the characters are. We have Willem Dafoe as a strange priest who is barely given any time. He seemed to be the only one having any fun, so let’s get rid of him. We also get the freaking Mountain as a villain… in a baseball/rugby game… Seriously, the camera never stays still on him long enough to recognize him, and why bother getting one of the most intimidating characters if you will waste them? Nicole Kidman is allowed to speak about three times, and seems more cunning than this film allows people to be. It is pretty bad when the people on the cover of the film have less than five minutes of screen time. Other than Simba and Olga, everyone else is cast aside.
The most disappointing thing about this film is that there isn’t a lot to say. A cut and dry revenge tale with some cool images but a lot of navel-gazing isn’t the type of film that draws me in. Further, it isn’t one that can be made fun of to make an entertaining review. I imagine Eggers is going to reconsider taking a larger budget as more money means more interference, and this film is so far removed from Eggers trademark style that I cannot imagine him being happy with it.
This might be the biggest let down of the year.