The idea that Vikings arrived in America long before Christopher Columbus is a fascinating one. It's easy to envision these bearded warriors, hunkered down in their longboats, stumbling sick and exhausted onto North American shores after a harrowing journey across the wild Atlantic. That's at least what I see. The makers of Pathfinder see something else entirely. The Vikings who wash ashore here are giant-sized brutes and they come complete with veritable armies and practically a herd of horses. It's like they rowed over from Jersey on cruise ships.
And forget every image of Vikings you've ever seen, these guys are less Scandinavian herdsman and more post-Apocalypse titans. Remember Humungous from The Road Warrior ("The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!")? Throw a few bear skins on that guy and give him a helmet made of twelve ram's horns and he could play every one of the Viking raiders in Pathfinder. I half expected MasterBlaster to come surging out of the primitive landscape. Article continues below
The other thing you'll want to forget when viewing Pathfinder is that most films have a plot. Pathfinder doesn't. It's just a choppy blend of every action film trope ever written. I suppose that kind of makes it archetypal -- it's not one thing; it's everything. But the picture's storyline is held together so flimsily that when you actually get an idea of what's going on, you immediately realize it's incredibly stupid.
Here's what happens: A Viking boy (who grows up to become Karl Urban
) is the sole survivor of a raiding party gone awry, he's raised as Ghost by the native peoples his fellow Norsemen have been terrorizing. Fifteen years later, when the Vikings come back for more pillaging, Ghost is their last and best defense against the seemingly unstoppable "dragon men" (so named because of their impenetrable armor). We've got the requisite Dances with Wolves-styled elements and the obligatory love interest played by Moon Goodblood (if anyone should be in a Native Americans vs. Vikings movie, it's someone with the name Moon Goodbloood) but mostly Pathfinder is about slo-mo carnage and widescreen shots of snowy landscapes.
Director Marcus Nispel
(rising from the music video hordes) can't pull a performance out of anyone in his cast. Urban is as clunky as ever, staring into nothing to signify deep thoughts and the actual pathfinder, played by Russell Means
, is utterly unconvincing, especially when he's slaying a cave bear without breaking a sweat. I suppose most of the blame for this colossal mess belongs to scripter Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander). Not only is Pathfinder saddled with cheesy Braveheart-riffs ("Run and you may live, fight and you will…") but everyone also speaks in a grating anachronistic style.
The one highlight of the film (unless you consider gory decapitations a highlight) is Daniel Pearl's stark cinematography. Pearl's another music video alumnus and there are certainly many moments when Pathfinder devolves into a blurry quick-cut mess, but most of the time the film looks stunning. Pearl dabs the picture in blues and grays and whites and there's something dreamlike, otherworldly, about the proceedings. In combination with art director Geoff Wallace and production designer Greg Blair, Pearl creates a primordial landscape of fetid, dark swamps filled with skulls and towering Wagnerian mountain peaks. This is the closest anyone's come to capturing the work of illustrator Frank Frazetta on screen.
Glossy cinematography and design aside, Pathfinder is a jumbled, hysterical muddle. The characters are not underdeveloped, they're nonexistent, the plot has so many holes you could drive an entire Panzer division through it and the acting plain stinks. Like a fever dream, Pathfinder is at times hallucinatory but ultimately, utterly forgettable.