Judge David Johnson prefers The Ball-peen Hammer of the Gods.
A king is born of blood.
Apparently, it's awfully hard to get Viking movies right. Since the high watermark for the genre was reached with The 13th Warrior (you know I'm right), there has been a succession of axe swings and misses. I enter with weighty expectations for the Northman offering known as Hammer of the Gods.
Facts of the Case
Steinar (Charlie Bewley, The Twilight Saga: New Moon) is a young warrior with a well-groomed face, hitting Saxon land and looking to do some serious damage. After slaughtering a few Anglos, he tracks down his ailing father (James Cosmo, Braveheart). The King implores Steinar to find his brother (Clive Standen, BBC's Camelot), long estranged and exiled to who knows where. The quest has an explicit purpose: Put Steinar to the ultimate test and reveal his worth as heir to the Viking throne.
I had been keeping an eye on this production for some time, ever since the first promotional images popped up on Magnet Releasing's Facebook page. "Hmmm…what could this be?" I briefly thought about asking myself, before realizing that would be stupid. Still, my interest was piqued. I'm a total sucker for the Viking vs. Saxon slice of history and my ears perk like a collie in a bathtub full of ground chuck when something from that era comes down the creative pike.
With and upside-down smile I arrive with bummer news: Hammer of the Gods stinks.
There are a lot of problems, but first and foremost are the characters. There is no one here worth pulling for. Even when you judge it on the "Antihero" curve, you're dealing with a group of douchenozzles, led by the main character. Steinar is short and vicious and wants to be King, but here's how we're introduced to the film's protagonist: he and his crew show up on Saxon land and butcher a group of farmers. Awesome. Later he walks away from a burning church as people scream die within (this immediately follows the mandatory dumping on the Christian faith). You're a winner, pal! By the time he reaches his destination (in a sequence reminiscent of Apocalypse Now), I had enough of this guy.
Perhaps if he was able to participate in semi-entertaining action scenes, I'd be more forgiving of his character flaws. But I can't even get that with this lump of a movie. The swordplay choreography is flailing and uninspiring, with zero weight placed behind the set-ups. Steinar and his pals just hack away at cannon fodder. Not only did I not care about anyone involved in the melees, I was actively rooting against the warriors I was supposed to be emotionally invested in. Actually, wait…in that first fight, when a group hapless Saxons get wiped out, there were lighting bolts in the background, so there you go, awesome lightning bolts in the background!
Finally, there's the small fact that the Vikings were the oppressing bad guys during this period of history! These clowns were raping, pillaging, and invading, and the Saxons—the direct precursors to our culture—were doing their best to repel them. So tell me again why I need to pull for this little twerp? If you want to draw me in, you better come up with a story more complex than "find the crazy brother and waste a third of the film lounging in a cave."
This being a Magnolia release, the Blu-ray is reliably stellar. The budget's obviously not high on this film, but the 2.40:1/1080p transfer produces a gritty, rich landscape. Everyone's muddy and bloody (and well-toothed, natch) and the down-and-dirty feel pops in HD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio pumps out the clangs and stabs and fairly corny techno soundtrack with style. Extras: interviews, a lengthy making-of featurette, an AXS TV promo, and a look at the visual effects.
The search continues. Hammer of the Gods is a tedious, pointless endeavor.
Cleave its skull.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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