When a Viking king is gravely wounded in battle fending off an approaching army, he sends his son Steinar on a quest to locate his missing older brother, Hakan the Ferocious. King Bagsecg insists that Steinar must return with the son who can save the clan from the enemy barking at their heels.
Between Thor and Game of Thrones, Vikings are gaining in popularity in modern entertainment. Taking advantage of the surge in AD Viking fantasy is Farren Blackburn’s (The Fades, Doctor Who) latest film, Hammer of the Gods. The film is full of heroic visuals, 300 posturing and Conan sword play. The locations are vibrant but desolate in the violence that colors the land. The fights are brutal and the stakes are high where anyone can fall at the blade of the enemy or the treachery of those closest to the clan. Charlie Bewley (The Vampire Diaries) provides Steinar with a determined vigor and cunning strength as well as a conflicted warrior prince looking to become a king. Elliot Cowan steps in late in the film to provide the film a needed antagonist in Hakan the Ferocious, Steinar’s brother and the King’s choice for succession. He is completely mental and barbaric, threatening everything the hero is striving to gain. The films thick serious tone, graphic violence and muted pallet give Hammer of the Gods a specific atmosphere and oppressive mood. The film is created with the fans of Game of Thrones and Conan in mind that accelerates continually as the film journeys toward its exceptionally satisfying conclusion.
Compared to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris Hemsworth and Gerard Butler, Charlie Bewley is a much sleeker hero than typically present in such cinematic representations of Viking and barbarian warfare. Regardless, Bewley manages to make Steinar a fierce warrior, who is both savage and smart, a resourceful leader of the king’s army. He also has a bit of rebel in him that is tangible on screen, an air of James Dean via True Blood’s Eric Northman – also a Viking. An early display of loyalty to his youngest half-brother, tempered obedience to the king and restrained conflict with his privileged brother, give Bewley’s Steinar a character streak that is engaging drawing the audience to his side almost immediately. There’s a blind determination in Steinar’s brow that convinces the audience the character is two steps ahead, planning his next attack or his immediate escape. The performance is impressive and promises more to come from the young actor.
At its core, the plot of Hammer of the Gods is no more than a quest film where the king sends his most deserving son off on a journey to recover a more ferocious force to save the clan. On the surface, the film is his trek across the countryside along with his closest warriors. They face a variety of dangers, meet new found friends and suffer surprising enemies. But, just below the surface, is a subtext that is far more interesting and satisfying, the personal journey of Steinar. The blood, blades and babes along the way are all fun action beats, but the emotional cadence provides the depth bubbling to the surface during the final act when Steinar returns to face the king’s earlier decisions and motivations. Oddly, it becomes a Viking coming of age film.
In Lord of the Rings fashion, Steinar’s quest begins with him surrounded by his best warrior friends introduced almost Manga style during the extended post-title intro. His team faces an approaching enemy, out numbered but not out matched. First up is the feral Grim (Michael Jibson), fierce and violent. Next up is Jokul (Guy Flanagan) a c**ky, but talented, swordsman. And then there is Hagen (Clive Standen), a near-giant muscle man who carries an enormous battle-anvil to batter his opponents into submission. Joining this renegade band of warriors is Steinar’s half-brother, Vali (Theo Barklem-Biggs), who is struggling to earn his keep in the clan. The man they search for is Hakan (Elliot Cowan) and only one man knows where to locate him, so the group have a two-days journey through Saxon territory to meet with Ivar, The Boneless. Eventually, Ivar agrees to lead them to Hakan. Along the way, bodies litter the country-side, traitors are exposed and challenges are meet with vigor, spit, sweat and blood.
Hammer of the Gods treats its material seriously and with great regard, a respect too rarely seen. It transforms the lush and beautiful landscapes into a convincing, grim, realistic Viking world. The film is gritty, dirty and abrasive. It is not a pleasant time as best seen early when the group tries to save a screaming young woman being stoned on the hillside. In the end, when she turns on them, her saviors, Grim quickly and mercilessly guts her quick. Vicious, indeed. The tone never lets up. It’s that tone that prevents the film from faltering. letting it sink into Asylum territory. While not entirely successful, the film is impressive and memorable providing cinema with a complex Viking hero. The film shows great promise for the director Farren Blackburn who has already proven his worth on BBC with The Fades and the fan favorite Doctor Who. For those who dig their quests with Vikings instead of Hobbits and Wizards, Hammer of the Gods is a damn good visceral, atmospheric adventure.
3.5 out of 5
Hammer of the Gods is now available on bluray per Magnolia Entertainment