Review: Hammer of the Gods (2013)

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Cast: Charlie Bewley, Clive Standen, James Cosmo
Director: Farren Blackburn
Country: UK
Genre: Action
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Hammer of the Gods opens theatrically tomorrow and is now available on VOD.

Perhaps it’s because there’s so little to them beyond their names that the characters of Hammer of the Gods are introduced in the film’s opening scene with large metallic typeface imposed over slow-motion shots of their Viking barbarism. It’s instantly reminiscent of last year’s similarly-begun Pusher remake, a comparison further earned via their shared authorship in screenwriter Matthew Read. Primarily a television producer, he held an “additional writing” credit on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, a clear inspiration here, as well as a convenient high-water mark against which this hopelessly ordinary picture pales.

That’s the great curiosity of this film, the accents: historical accuracy—it takes place in the 9th century, amidst battles between the Vikings and Saxons—is far from its forté, but the unabashed Englishness of its players’ accents is distractingly disregardful of any semblance of verisimilitude.

hammer_of_the_gods_2013_3Beyond Valhalla Rising, whose brooding brutality informs the drab palette with which Hammer of the Gods paints, the obvious inspiration here is Game of Thrones. Turning up momentarily to menacingly snarl as only he can, James Cosmo hardly looks to have even shed his Thrones costume, nor adjusted his accent one iota. That’s the great curiosity of this film, the accents: historical accuracy—it takes place in the 9th century, amidst battles between the Vikings and Saxons—is far from its forté, but the unabashed Englishness of its players’ accents is distractingly disregardful of any semblance of verisimilitude. Not that their dialogue isn’t entirely out of place either: borrowing from Thrones’ fondness for contemporary curse words—forgivable, in its case, the fictional setting considered—Hammer of the Gods has its characters crossly calling each other assholes every second sentence.

Realism is not the register at which Read and debut director Farren Blackburn take aim, however: they locate this tale in a fantasy landscape, talk—though never sight—of cave trolls telling us all we need to know about the relation of this story to reality. Blackburn does well for a first-timer, maintaining a steady hand on the often impromptu action sequences, if a tad too often calling to mind 300 with his liberal bloodshed and beheadings. The cast typically do better when interacting with swords than with words: mostly devoid of realised characters to work with, the bulk of their dialogue is either clunky exposition or meaningless filler, which they promptly deliver with more functionality than finesse. Ostensibly the lead, Charlie Bewley is mainly called upon to display a chiselled abdomen and roar before running into battle; his achievement, primarily, is in making this not quite so silly as it might be.

It’s less ill-advised—though it’s certainly that too—than it is just weird, the sight of these Vikings hacking their way through their foes to the tune of dropped bass attention-grabbing for all the wrong reasons.

hammer_of_the_gods_2013_4The story—such as it is—follows Bewley’s Steinar, the bastard son of Cosmo’s King Bagsecg sent by his dying father to find his legitimate half-brother and return him home to take the soon-to-be-vacated throne. It’s less a plot, of course, than it is an excuse for some battles: Read develops his narrative even less than his characters, using the basic goal set out at the film’s beginning to join the dots between set pieces. That might be fine if said battles were any bit enjoyable; Blackburn, though competent with the camera, displays little imagination in his staging of these sequences, his only personal touch the strange, unsuccessful addition of a dubstep soundtrack at one point. It’s less ill-advised—though it’s certainly that too—than it is just weird, the sight of these Vikings hacking their way through their foes to the tune of dropped bass attention-grabbing for all the wrong reasons.

The movie’s unrelenting reliance on its antecedents reaches an absurd apex in a third act that comes directly from Valhalla Rising, albeit filtered through the lens of a filmmaker far less aesthetically mature than Refn. But then that’s a fitting end for a film like Hammer of the Gods, never more than a loose collection of competent but diminutive knock-offs of better productions. Between this and Pusher, Read has managed very successfully to demonstrate the extent of his talents as solo screenwriter. He has, at least, offered people like Blackburn and Bewley a tide to swim against: Hammer of the Gods may not be any good, but sometimes it takes such productions to expose the good in individuals; talent shines brightest when hidden in the dark.

[notification type=”star”]38/100 ~ AWFUL. Hammer of the Gods is never more than a loose collection of competent but diminutive knock-offs of better productions.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.