Between his eye-popping cinematography, hyperactive editing techniques, and the sort of unabashed chauvinism Michael Bay might deem “good clean fun,” Zack Snyder has established himself as contemporary Hollywood’s most unforgiving stylist, a proponent of gory action, busty broads, and hard-rock soundtracks, not to mention a leading purveyor of the CGI-dominated cinema that further separates the medium from its celluloid roots. As film art and film technology have gradually merged, a generation of techno geeks-cum-filmmakers have become increasingly smitten with Snyder’s hyperbolic aestheticism. Ergo, copycats are all but a given—such as Vikingdom, an epic Malasyian/U.S. co-production about crusading Vikings out to stop an evil deity from taking over the world. Modeled after the violent excesses of 300 and the Hot Topic-style milieu of Sucker Punch, the film is without question a direct cribbing of cinema du Snyder, but it also surpasses his work in disarming ways.
Like Snyder, director Yusry Abd Halim is all about chiseled male figures, anachronistic period details, lusty vixens, and violence as heroism. The film’s bloody battle sequences, punctuated by armies of brawny warriors who wield shiny, sharp weapons, play like carbon copies of similar scenes in 300, while its mythic themes are played in the same literalist fashion as those in Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. But whereas Snyder is guilty of inundating his films with detrimental doses of self-seriousness and errant moralization, Vikingdom is, by comparison, a farcical romp on par with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Intentionally or otherwise, Halim allows the film, in all its candy-colored visuals and slow-mo-laden action scenes, to revel in its inherent campiness. At its best, the film a sort of live-action cartoon that embellishes, a la Tsui Hark, cinema’s natural illusionism to dizzying, almost surreal effect.
The plot is comically complicated: It’s the 11th century and the Christianization of Scandinavia is in full swing, much to the chagrin of Thor (Conan Stevens), who arrives in human form intent on overtaking humanity. To achieve this, he sets out to gather key relics, including a Mary Magdalene-owned necklace that will apparently open the gates of heaven and hell on Earth. This all needs to be accomplished before what’s known as the Blood Eclipse, which supposedly happens once every 800 years. Standing in his way is a heroic former king, Eirick (Dominic Purcell), who died in battle, but is brought back to a life by a sorceress who’s also his lover. There’s a ton more needless plot where that came from, but this isn’t the sort of film that succeeds or fails on the basis of its narrative prowess. Rather, Vikingdom is an exercise in excess that improves on the Snyder model by squeezing in as much movement, smash cuts, and straight-up goofiness into a two-hour window as possible. It’s like eating a deep-fried Twinkie—completely irredeemable in virtually every fashion, but ultimately worth it for the experience alone.