Critics Who Saw The Northman Are Still Picking Their Jaws Up Off The Floor

Reviews are already piling up for "The Northman," director Robert Eggers's bloody Viking tale of revenge, ahead of its theatrical release later this month. Dubbed a "Viking 'Hamlet' by Eggers (via IGN) and bearing a striking similarity to the same Scandinavian saga that shares narrative ties with William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (via British Library), the film tells a familiar tale about a prince who vows to avenge his father's death at the hands of his uncle. Eggers has assembled a hard-hitting cast for his new movie. Alexander Skarsgård takes the lead role of Prince Amleth, with Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Dafoe among the supporting cast.

After Eggers dazzled critics with "The Lighthouse" in 2019, some were unsure how he would top his success with a gritty Viking epic. Those fears seemed to grow after a report emerged that "The Northman" had been recut due to negative receptions in audience test screenings — news which left fans of "The Witch" director worried. Now, it seems those fears were unfounded. Thus far, critics have responded to the movie with an overwhelming groundswell of positive reviews. "The Northman" currently boasts an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics praising the film's direction, cinematography, and cast, as well as its use of historical accuracy and unflinching violence to deconstruct the trappings of masculinity. 

From epic battles to sublime performances, here's what critics are saying about Eggers' jaw-dropping new feature, "The Northman."

Critical reception to The Northman is stellar, with multiple perfect ratings

"The Northman" seems to have blown away most critical expectations with its audacious style and historical realism, and many critics are praising director Robert Eggers' commitment to his artistic vision. The bloody Viking epic received a perfect score from several outlets.

Writing for The Irish Times, critic Donald Clarke noted that "The Northman" is continuously engaging as a result of its adherence to historical accuracy. Clarke goes on to say, "All this is good clean homicidal fun." Meanwhile, Linda Marric at The Jewish Chronicle remarked, "[Eggers] has delivered an unflinchingly brutal, raw and genuinely thrilling tale of vengeance and passion," before proceeding to call it the best movie of 2022 thus far. Marric then said, "'The Northman' remains the most honest and the most easily believable Viking-themed movie any of us are ever likely to experience. Genuinely thrilling from start to finish."

In another gushing, five-star review, The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey spoke in glowing terms of the authentic portrayal of Viking culture on display in "The Northman." Loughrey praised Eggers' commitment to authenticity with his third film, seemingly eschewing any instinct to bend to populist perceptions around Viking culture. She also noted, "The director never shrugs off the vicious misogyny of the period, either, carving out a special place for the women of his film and the deep, feminine nature of Viking sorcery," even while the film serves as a brutal testament to and depiction of masculinity.  At The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw was equally fervent in lavishing praise through his descriptions of the movie's violence and chaos: "'The Northman' is a horribly violent, nihilistic, and chaotic story about the endless cycle of violence [...] and the thread of fate down which masculinity's delicious toxin drips."

The Northman reviews praise the cast, and Nicole Kidman is the standout

"The Northman" boasts a stacked cast, with Alexander Skarsgård in the lead role of Amleth, accompanied by Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and more. Writing for The Wrap, Alonso Duralde remarked, "[Director Robert] Eggers knows how to bring the actors to the specifically weird wavelength of his stories, and the ensemble commits absolutely to inhabiting this world and conveying the passions and obsessions of the characters." In a film brimming with barbarism and mysticism, keeping that balance is greatly important, and critics think the actors feel perfectly in tune.

The standout performance appears to be Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún, according to many reviews. While Bill Goodykoontz's review for AZ Central noted the ferocity of Skarsgård's lead performance, it is in Kidman's that he finds the truly Shakespearean. He wrote, "She can go over the top and still stay grounded." At Time Out, Phil de Semlyen agrees that Kidman brings magic to the proceedings. "She's clearly having a blast with a character who is never entirely moored to the world she inhabits or any traditional gender role," he explained.

According to many reviews, the rest of the cast isn't phoning it in, either. Skarsgård has been open about the grueling experience of shooting the film, and Roger Ebert's Robert Daniels felt the righteous anger burning inside of Amleth. He observed, "In a culture that's weeded out male vulnerability, it's down to Skarsgård to translate this man's repressed emotions to a palpable rage." As Olga, Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a noteworthy performance, too. The Wrap's review characterized her mystical on-screen presence thus: "Taylor-Joy's wide eyes and otherworldly quality allow her to convey with conviction the idea of a woman with powers on a mystical plane." Taylor-Joy has also noted the brutal conditions required to film "The Northman," and that struggle has paid off in spades.

Critics love The Northman's combination of beauty and brutality

For Roger Ebert, Robert Daniels wrote about the use of camera work to enhance one particularly brutal scene in which a village is raided. He noted, "The elaborate tracking shot accompanying the scene feeds the camera's delirious appetite for flesh with bodies bathed in blood, and the bone-chilling macho screams emanating from insatiable men." The Irish Times' Donald Clarke calls the scene a war crime by modern standards, commenting, "'The Northman' does not sell its empathy cheaply." At AZ Central, Bill Goodykoontz admires the movie's fixation on the grimy and grotesque, writing, "They should have showers in the lobby afterward."

When it comes to a broad consensus, a great number of reviewers are simply happy that a movie like this could get made despite obstacles. Clarisse Loughrey's review for The Independent called it a risky film to make and concluded, "I call upon Odin: May 'The Northman' make a billion dollars." For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw capped his review with four incredible words: "I couldn't look away." Time Out's Phil de Semlyen called readers to action. He implored, "Make it your destiny to see this blood-soaked odyssey along the edge of the world as soon as possible."

"The Northman" hits U.S. theaters on Friday, April 22.