More often than not, I tend to seek out films that could give me a different taste in my mouth before I embark on yet another commercial film. It gives me a new perspective and a sort of a ‘reset button’ so that I will be able to learn to appreciate different sides of the film spectrum. It is always important to keep oneself from getting burned out in watching and reviewing movies. This is how I came across director Farren Blackburn’s “Hammer of the Gods” which is scheduled for a theatrical release in July, 2013. The film promises bloody violent action and so I became interested. If it was in the same cloth as “Ironclad” or “Centurion” then I would be satisfied. But “Hammer of the Gods” is both different and the same from other movies that promised unyielding bloody swordplay action.
870 A.D. in Great Britain. The Viking King Bagsecg’s (James Cosmo) forces are reeling from the advancing Saxon horde. Wounded and dying, the Viking king dispatches his young warrior son, Steinar (Charlie Bewley) to find his estranged brother who had been exiled from the clan some years ago. Steinar takes his companions Hagen (Clive Standen), Grim (Michael Jibson) and Joku (Guy Flanagan) on his quest while reluctantly taking his younger half-brother Vali (Theo Barklem-Biggs) as well. Their journey across terrifyingly hostile territory will make Steinar what he needs to become king…
There are films that can said to have a certain ambition and “Hammer of the Gods” is one such film. I appreciate what the screenplay was trying to do, it sets to bring forth a glimpse into this harsh period of time where violence and murder is the way things are communicated. There is a kind of ‘coming of age’ theme (ala-Tiger Sharks before birth) around its premise and the writing by Matthew Read comes forth rather strongly, and it was pretty simple with its portrayal. It is all about the warrior’s way of the Vikings and just how they choose the next leader. At the film’s first half, one would assume that it was a simple quest but once you see the scene where the king bluffs Steinar into trying to kill Vali, the viewer quickly sees the sheer savagery of this world that the film had created. What is necessary to be a man in this world…a place where Christians and Heathens commit brutal violence and where you end up killing the very person you have come to save? Where killing is praised while incest and homosexuality is a crime? The script does get the message across and it does so in a manner that I fear, could’ve used a larger budget and even a more capable direction.
There is something to be said for the film’s need to be gritty. Blackburn shoots the film in a rather gloomy atmosphere to exude that tempo and mood. Complete with shots of the lush landscape, the film does have its strong points. While the set pieces were not well-conceived or original, they fit the film’s premise. The film is all about the journey, and yet the journey itself became a little tedious to follow. It became a little redundant as Steinar and his companions go to one swordfight to another, as they suffer losses and even to the point of turning against one another. It wasn’t that the concept behind such scenes were bad, but they were just clumsily put together. Even the introduction of characters such as Agnes (Alexandra Downing) and Ivar (Ivan Kaye) did very little to really advance its elements. There is a certain style that the direction was trying to adapt, but it just failed to connect with me. I guess it was because the emotions weren’t properly presented and the characters weren’t really all that interesting.
Yes, this is a film that would’ve really benefited with a larger budget. I know Vikings and the look that I am used to did not resemble the costumes and appearance of Steinar and his band. Sure, these are British Vikings perhaps, but they did not have the look of ruthlessly skilled warriors. The action while bloody and violent in their own right were not exactly that intense. Blackburn struggled with the shots of the action sequences as he tries to maneuver the camera to get the best shot possible and yet, all he manages were either wide distance shots and close ups. The choreography of the fights were shaky, the editing was uncertain and the actors did not sell the action well. Be that as it may, I did like the fact that the film used practical effects rather than CGI to generate the blood and mild gore. It gave the violence that B-movie feel which was necessary to add some charm to them. The soundtrack did not feel at all right; and we all know just how music enhances the cinematic experience. The action scenes just did not have the necessary visceral punch to drive the film’s thrust.
“Hammer of the Gods” had the potential to be a much more exciting film but somehow it feels more like something in the cloth of “Valhalla Rising”. This would not be a bad thing, but the uneven direction and tepid performances just made the film much more alienating that it was supposed to be. The screenplay was too unfocused to fully convey its themes, and so many things got introduced along the way, and without the proper direction and writing, it just could not deliver. The film could’ve benefited in having a shorter runtime than 99 minutes. This was sad since the film had a lot of potentially dark themes that could’ve been better explored. “Hammer of the Gods” had the right ambition and intentions, but it just did have the necessary tools to deliver what it really needed to be. Rentalfor cinema fans and a Skipper for Everybody else. [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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