Hammer Of The Gods review

Not the long-rumoured bio-pic of drum-happy rock star rummy John Bonham, Hammer Of The Gods is instead a daft, enjoyable slice of Viking hokum that plays like a Finnish death metal video and will leave FrightFesters and people who watch the Kerrang! Channel tumescent.  

It’s 891AD and the Vikings and the Saxons are warring over who will control 9th-century Britain. With the final, decisive battle looming, the mortally wounded Viking King Bacsecg (Cosmo of course, who the hell else would it be?) is reluctant to hand control of his crumbling empire to weak, cowardly son and heir Harald (Robertson), instead despatching loyal younger son Steiner (Bewley) to track down and bring back his estranged elder brother, fearsome warrior Hakan the Ferocious (Da Vinci’s Demons’ Cowan), whom Bacsecg mysteriously banished when Steinar was a child and whose name may not even be spoken aloud on pain of death

Gathering together a small band of trusted warriors; friend and mentor Hagen (Clive Standen), the thuggish Grim (Jibson) and the superstitious Jokul (Flanagan), Steinar sets off on an epic journey across hostile, Saxon-occupied territory in search of the lost sibling he believes is the only hope for the future of the kingdom, his bloody odyssey leading him deeper into the heart of darkness, forcing him to confront and make peace with his own savage nature. But what waits for Steinar at the end of his quest is truly terrifying…

Graphically violent and gleefully bloodthirsty, Hammer Of The Gods is the film your inner 14-year-old metalhead, pissed on cider and black, has been fantasising about. From the first scene where a Viking longboat beaches itself and a horde of hairy reprobates (well, half a dozen anyway) leap ashore in slo-mo, swinging rusty axes and tearing it up with some unfortunate Northumbrians to an incongruous dubstep soundtrack (9th-century Viking warriors love a bit of dubstep), unconvincing lightning flashing in the background, Hammer Of The Gods is derivative nonsense. Helmed by TV director Blackburn, who seems intent on stuffing the screen full of all the tits and brutality he wasn’t allowed on Doctor Who, the film filches off-cuts of John McTiernan’s rollicking The 13th Warrior and Antoine Fuqua’s po-faced, sword and sandals, PG-13 pop video King Arthur, stitching them into a lo-fi, no-budget Norse myth in search of the mythic.  

And then, just as you’ve made peace with the fact that what you’re watching is essentially a mindless, fun, if rather violent, weekend’s LARPing with some nice performances from Bewley and Standen, the film takes a welcome turn to the left and turns into a Dark Ages Apocalypse Now, with Steinar leading his not-so-merry band straight into “The horror … the horror!” Along the way they battle Saxons, ineffectually try to rescue an ungrateful damsel in distress, are betrayed and encounter the fearsome Ivar the Boneless (the terrifying Kaye) before Steinar finds the hero he seeks within himself. A famed warrior banished, at the same time as Hakan, for his paedophilic predilections – even rapey/pillagey Vikings have some moral standards! – the predatory Ivar’s aid may just cost Steinar a severe, violent bumming.  

As the last act descends into madness, incest and cannibalism, there’s electric turns by Cowan as Kurtz, I mean, Hakan, and Barber, but it’s hard to shake the notion that writer Read seems intent on remaking his favourite boyhood films with Vikings, having also contributed to Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant, hallucinatory Valhalla Rising – 2001 with Vikings. What’s next? A Norse Blade Runner or a Viking Jaws?  

Brutish and gory, Hammer Of The Gods’ rags-to-Ragnarok tale is many things, subtle not being one of them, but it’s a lot better than it has a right to be and, if you park your brain at the door, it’s more fun than the inside of Jimmy Page’s skull.

Hammer Of The Gods at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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