The Northman is a type of film that is dangerously rare nowadays, a form of cinematic masterpiece that flawlessly blends spectacle and depth withour one stepping over the other, that is epic and intimate, soaked in the primordial atmosphere without any hint of modern contamination.
What The Northman does best is to encompass the whole experience of a very different culture. Vengeance itself is not the modern construct but a matter of duty and life is predetermined, heroism is not the christian self-immolation but to be found in the most brutal death. Cinema tends to modernize ancient worlds and make them adhere to our modern concepts, but The Northman never makes this mistake. Additionally, the film provides a substantial subtext that is to be discovered, through the rituals that are depicted or the mythological concepts that are tackled. Eggers is well known for his historical adherence: as The VVitch perfectly described the experience of puritan life in 17th century New England, The Northman perfectly describes the life experience of a viking.
Not only that, Sjon and Eggers' screenplay does not ignore Shakespeare's adaptation of the same myth that inspired the film. This happens in two ways mainly: the spoken language in enrichened with ancestral and outdated, literary expressions and phrases, often very shakesparian in nature, and some scenes directly nod to the tragedy: Amleth's encounter in his mother's chambers echoes strongly the similar scene in the play, Willem Dafoe's character is in many ways similar to Yorick. Gone are Hamlet's fears and tedium, replaced with Amleth's action (albeit measured).
Eggers films have delivered outstanding performances in the past, and so does this film. Nicole Kidman in a particular scene is genuinely frightening in a way that none of her previous performances were ever even comparable.
It would be very restrictive to describe The Northman as a revenge movie. At the end of the two hours and twenty minutes of its lenght it has brought through a vast journey, both mental and physical, a truly deep cinematic experience of the sorts that very few films have ever brought. Viewers may feel the urge of roaring through the theater halls whilst walking in a viking pose, fueled by the strong energy radiated by this masterpiece.