Friday, September 25, 2015

Hammer of the Gods

3/4

Starring: Charlie Bewley, Clive Standen, Ivan Kaye, Guy Flanagan, Michael Jibson, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Alexandra Dowling, Finlay Robertson, James Cosmo, Elliot Cowan

Rated R for Bloody Violence, Language including Sexual References, and Some Nudity

"Hammer of the Gods" seeks to be more than a "300" clone.  While it's got more than enough brutal bloodshed to satisfy gorehounds and adrenaline junkies, the plot is deeper and the characters are better developed.  Director Farren Blackburn has fashioned a more realistic action movie set in the ancient world.

The Vikings have long since settled in Northern Britain, although their hold on it is weakening.  The Saxons are invading, and they don't have the strength to repel them.  King Bagsecg (Cosmo) has sent for his son Steinar (Bewley) to lead the reinforcements, but when the prince arrives, his father has been gravely wounded and has only about a week to live.  His half-brother Harald (Standen) is next in line to the throne, but Bagsecg sends Steinar to find Hakan (Cowan), Steinar's long-banished older brother.  If he's alive, he's deep within enemy territory.  Steinar mounts up with his friends, Hagen (Standen), his right hand man, the paranoid and omen-obsessed Jokul (Flanagan), and the bawdy Grim (Jibson) to fine Ivar (Kaye), the one man who might know where Hakan is.

As with all quest movies, the journey matters more than the destination.  While the goal is to find Hakan, the real meat of the story is watching Steinar learn what it takes to be a king.  Being a skilled warrior isn't enough.  It takes a shrewd mind that isn't afraid of severing ties when they become dangerous.  This isn't exactly a revolutionary idea, but Blackburn, working with a script by Matthew Read, gives it its due to the point where it is consistently engaging and adds weight to what would otherwise be a lightweight gorefest.

The performances help a lot.  Even though he looks more like a playboy than a wrestler from the WWE (the latter of which being the usual candidates for this type of role), Charlie Bewley summons up the presence and gravitas to pull this role off.  It took me less than a minute to accept him as the rising king.  Clive Standen is also effective as his right-hand man.  Ivan Kaye plays Ivar as a larger-than-life but still sympathetic individual.  And Elliot Cowan is perfectly demented as Hakan.

Zack Snyder's 2006 film is an obvious influence for Blackburn, from the burly, muscle-bound heroes to the ramping in the action scenes.  "Hammer of the Gods" doesn't squeeze out as much adrenaline as the more famous film, but it's enough to satisfy.  The film also looks great, bringing to mind the more eye-popping moments of "Red Sonja."  It's significantly less cheesy than the latter, too.

"Hammer of the Gods" is not a perfect movie, but it's a hell of a lot better than that other Viking-oriented action movie, "Pathfinder."

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