Dir: Farren Blackburn. UK. 2013. 99mins
The axe-wielding, sword-slashing, bloodthirsty medieval action–adventure has proved to be modest box office gold in recent years, with the grim and brutal Mads Mikkelson starrer Valhalla Rising finding a warm welcome with fans of Viking berserker-style films. The impressively staged and engagingly violent Hammer Of The Gods makes a bold attempt to follow in the wake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s stark film, but lacks the story and strong lead performance to fully engage.
Frustratingly the script never takes advantage of the bleak structure, and relies on clichés rather than the violent darkness that made Valhalla Rising so gloomily impressive.
That isn’t to say there aren’t moments to enjoy in Farren Blackburn’s feature debut, simply that it is all rather familiar stuff, and on the back of Valhalla Rising, Centurion, Arthur, The 13th Warrior and The Eagle it feels like it is trying to mine similar territory, but without the twists, performances or moments of cinematic verve to make it stand out. Sales should be solid however – the film has opened on VOD in the US via Mangnolia prior to a July theatrical run – to distribs who have had success with similar fare.
Shot in Wales and making great use of a suitably bleak and stark backdrop, Hammer Of The Gods is set in Viking Britain in 871 AD, where young Viking warrior Steinar (Charlie Bewley) is sent on a mission by his dying father (James Cosmo) to find his estranged brother, who was banished from the kingdom many years before.
Along with a few Viking warriors – including his mentor and friend Hagen (an impressive Clive Standen) and oddball fighters Jokul (Guy Flanagan) and Grim (Michael Jibson) – he heads off on an epic journey, involving deadly battles against strange and devious enemies to track his brother. He manages to acquire slave girl Agnes (Alexandra Dowling) along the way, before a final showdown with his brother Hakan (Elliot Cowan).
Frustratingly the script never takes advantage of the bleak structure, and relies on clichés rather than the violent darkness that made Valhalla Rising so gloomily impressive. Though he tries his best, Charlie Bewley makes for a less-than-striking lead, especially when set alongside the far more charismatic Clive Standen – though it is perhaps simply that Steinar is a less interesting character than the more complex Hagen.
James Cosmo chips in with a nice cameo as the dying King Bagsecg, while Glynis Barber (famous in the UK for roles in Blakes 7 and Dempsey And Makepeace) has a brief turn as barking mad Astrid in the climactic scene where Steinar meets his brother again. A poorly judged CGI scene in the film’s final moment further points to the low budget but high aspirations of the film. It will find supporters amongst those who enjoy even modest attempts at the genre, but is unlikely to break out any further.
Production company: Vertigo Films
International sales: Protagonist Pictures, www.protagonistpictures.com
Producers: Rupert Preston, Huberta Von Liel
Executive producers: Allan Niblo, James Richardson, Nick Love, Nigel Williams, Job Bourdillon
Screenplay: Matthew Read
Cinematography: Stephan Pehrsson
Editor: Sam Williams
Production designer: Ben Smith
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Main cast: Charlie Bewley, Elliot Cowan, Clive Standen, Michael Jibson, Guy Flanagan, Ivan Kaye, Alexandra Dowling, Glynis Barber, James Cosmo