Bob’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Northman is kind of like mixing folklore with Shakespeare.
The story plays in a stylized manner, and feels quite epic. It's like the story a father, maybe Ragnar from the show Vikings, would tell his sons, of a time, generations prior, when "men were men and made the gods proud," of how to be a force of nature. It's a movie that's grounded at times, but also shows the influence of the gods upon the world.
It begins with Ethan Hawke, King of Hrafnsey (an island in East Iceland), returned after a season away of doing viking stuff, looting and slaving I guess. But then Hawke's half-brother, Claes Bang, betrays Hawke to take the kingdom. Hawke's son, played as an adult by Alexander Skarsgård, is to be put to death. But Skarsgård escapes, vowing to return to free his mother, avenge his father, and kill his uncle, the betrayer.
Although there are unexpected moments within the story, it turns not so much on whether Skarsgård can fulfill his destiny, but more on how it will play out, what decisions he will make -- whether to love his kin or hate his foes. There's also a decent side story with Anya Taylor-Joy, who herself plays an interesting character, and there are a couple good scenes with Willem Dafoe (could've used more, ha). Plus, Björk!
On top of that, there's fantastic lighting and coloring. It reminded me at times of Sin City where the frame is mostly black-and-white with an accent color. The Northman isn't quite that, but watching gave me the same feeling. And then the music: traditional, haunting, and fittingly complementary to the primal energy of the film itself. Even the fighting, which is somewhat sparse, feels more primal than choreographed.
Stylistically, it's fantastic. The story is simple but carries a sense of timelessness that works. It has an "early-man" energy to it that I liked.
I'd say that, of Eggers' movies, I liked the Lighthouse best, followed by the Witch, and then the Northman -- but the gap between each film is pretty narrow, each scratching an almost poetic itch satisfyingly.