Vikingdom (2013)

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There are certain genres where films that do it with a twinkle in their eye and the sense they’re not taking it too seriously will get quite a bad press on release. “Torque” and racing movies, “Super Cyclone” and disaster movies, and along with a hundred other examples we can add “Vikingdom” and historical epics to that list.

“300” casts a long shadow over films with fighting in, to the extent I’m not even sure if people realise they’re ripping it off any more, just that that’s the way it’s done. Dominic Purcell is Eirick, the king of a small country who’s killed in a slow-mo-blood-spurting battle. His voiceover intones “my story starts the day I died” and then flips forward ten years, to where he’s living in a tiny shack in the forest, hunting bears. Turns out that Freya, the Norse goddess of love, so adored Eirick that she brought him back from the dead, and he’s been living a monk-like existence since then. The idea of the “love” for a deity being shown in almost romantic terms is an interesting one, but we don’t have tons of time to dwell on that because Thor is back!

Thor, a villain in this movie, has decided to open the gates of Heaven and Hell, cause havoc, destroy the Christian god and resume his place at the centre of everyone’s worship. Freya’s brother Frey has come to ask Eirick for help – his resurrected status means he can go to Hellheim and back and grab a magic horn. So, he sets off to gather a gang of people to help.

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Here’s where the director’s name might come in handy. Yusry Abd Halim is his name, and he’s Malaysian. Educated partly in the UK, formerly a member of a boy band in his home country, then moved into acting, and now owner of the production company which makes the films he directs. He’s done a superhero comedy, horror and also an East-meets-West historical epic. “Vikingdom” feels more in the tradition of those huge films that have been coming out of the Far East than it does of low-budget Western quest movies, which is definitely how it was sold in the UK. Plus, its slightly dreamy, cartoony backgrounds and special effects definitely set it apart from the mainstream.

A criticism Halim received for his suphero movie “Cicak-Man” is that in the same film, you had people acting entirely seriously and people having a bit of a laugh, resulting in weird tonal shifts. I think the same thing happens here, with Eirick the unsmiling, sober hero, and several of the people round him being slightly less serious- importantly, I think it works though. Craig Fairbrass is fantastic as his sidekick Sven, who plays his entire part as a Cockney hard-man and John Foo is great as Yang, an Oriental slave who they rescue, who happens to be a martial arts super-fighter. There are a couple of magnificent examples of the over-actor’s art on display too, like Conan Stevens as Thor and John Reynolds as the Zombie King, who never met a line they didn’t want to shout with a weird intonation. Add in to this a former “Only Fools And Horses” cast member, and Natassia Malthe forcing her way onto the quest and luckily (for us) forgetting to wear anything remotely protective when going into battle, and you’ve got yourself a decent cast.

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“Vikingdom” isn’t short, either – almost 2 hours – which had me wondering if it was originally intended as a mini-series or something. But there’s no indication that’s the case, and it’s more a matter of, from the cover and advertising, expecting that cheap Asylum / SyFy Channel thing, which this most definitely is not. Also, filmed entirely in Malaysia, which can evidently turn its hand to looking like basically anywhere.

The big thing to say about this is it’s just so much fun! The cast has a great time, it’s lovely to look at and it feels very different to most films of this sort. The comedy tone is handled really well too, and it works because some of the cast play it completely straight (and may not have been aware that others were aiming for laughs). There’s no attempt to match accents, because who cares? It’s not like any of this really happened anyway. The funniest thing associated with this movie is claims from some corners that it’s hate speech towards the Norse people; well, that and when Thor goes to one of his underlings “you lack vision” then pops one of his eyes out of his skull. Yes!

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This is a great movie. A fun, exciting historical romp, with overacting, underacting, crazy special effects and a huge variety of fights.

Rating: thumbs up

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