By the Sword
Pathfinder resists having fun with the fact that it really doesn't present much of a story. The word "brainless" gets applied to a lot of action movies these days, but in some cases, it's a hasty declaration. Be they cinematic homages like Grindhouse or stylish tales of glory like 300, some movies are more than just a couple of hours of beatings and bloodshed. Pathfinder, on the other hand, is not one of those films.
Set in North America a handful of centuries before Columbus dropped by, Pathfinder centers around a string of Native American tribes who have recently fallen under attack by the Dragon Men, Viking marauders who pillage villages and kill without any mercy whatsoever. However, a woman from one tribe comes upon a shipwreck and discovers a young, scared Viking boy still alive. Having been taken in and reluctantly accepted by some into the community, the boy grows up to become a chiseled man the credits refer to only as Ghost (Karl Urban).
Despite being tormented by memories of his past life, all is peaceful in Ghost's world, until more of the Dragon Men arrive and slaughter his entire village. Filled with rage and still battling his inner demons, Ghost must learn to channel his anger into protecting a nomadic tribe (including the obligatory Love Interest, played by Eight Below's Moon Bloodgood) and putting a stop to the invasion of the Dragon Men for good.
I realize that expecting historical accuracy from Pathfinder would be like asking a monkey for stock advice: you'll get an answer, just not one that's even close to hitting the mark. Still, I didn't expect this film to be as murky and unenergetic as it is. Pathfinder tries to approach an epic story with a B-movie mentality and wants to get the best of both worlds. The beginning seems curiously rushed, with the first Viking raids quickly playing out over the opening credits before director Marcus Nispel (whose last flick was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) jumps right into the central plot. Unfortunately, while Nispel's premise is ripe with the potential to inject some intelligence amongst the gouged eyes and decapitations, he doesn't bring any passion to the project, no real driving force beyond making what's essentially a feature-length version of a particularly violent "Hercules" episode.
I'm always up for good battle sequences, but the stale manner in which Pathfinder depicts most of them, essentially boiling such scenes down to a bunch of lunkheads crashing into one another, begs the question of why someone should pay five bucks for this when they can get the same thing for free watching Monday night wrestling. They're also on the repetitive side, the same dog-and-pony show of Urban slashing up giant dudes wearing huge helmets in an incredibly gray color scheme. Admittedly, Pathfinder has a mighty fine look to it, with some truly striking shots of the wilderness and the occasional battle scene that's actually pretty well-filmed. But after this and Doom, I don't think Urban (who kinda looks like Eric Bana's kid brother) will be the next Schwarzenegger. And, as the main evil Viking, Clancy Brown is undistinguishable from any other member of the marauding horde. Of the whole cast, only the photogenic Bloodgood makes a real impression, turning in a decent performance as a native woman drawn into Ghost's quest for justice.
It's usually a bad sign when movies are postponed for about a year, and Pathfinder continues that tradition. Not so much a bad film as an ill-timed one, the movie's pushed-back release date made way for such rousing epics as Apocalypto and 300 to stake out similar cinematic territory first. With Pathfinder arriving after those movies already started the party, it's like following up a Mozart concerto with a Don Johnson album.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "R" for strong, brutal violence throughout.)