The Conquering Zero
To paraphrase Roger Ebert, Hammer of the Gods is aware that "Game of Thrones" is a popular show but doesn't know why. This movie has undoubtedly been influenced by that HBO sensation's liberal violence and "Say WHAT?!"-inducing plot twists, with the marketing playing off of whatever relevance 300 still has with the general public. Alas, it's yet another film in which gritted teeth and macho posturing are substituted for actual personality, which -- paired with a depressingly dull visual scheme -- makes for one of the most boring of recent cinematic bloodbaths.
The year: 871. The place: Britain. The country has become a no man's land, being torn apart by the various forces gunning to rule it. Beaten to his deathbed by the encroaching Saxon hordes, the Viking king Bagsecg (James Cosmo) calls upon his young son Steinar (Charlie Bewley) to undertake a strange mission: retreive his older brother Hakan (Elliot Cowan), who was banished years ago. Puzzled as to why his father would want a pariah to assume the throne, Steinar accepts the task anyway, heading deep into Saxon country with a ragtag troupe of his most dedicated warriors. But with each body they slice their way through, the more Steinar's eyes open to the mission's true purpose, one intended to prepare him for the bloody destiny he must one day accept.
There's a difference between using an extra bit of violence to spice up a simple adventure story and that story being so uninvolving that the bloodshed becomes the only thing people are likely to recall about it. Hammer of the Gods stumbles into the latter camp in no time at all, getting more reliant on cliche and uninspired action sequences with each passing minute. Here's a movie that flashes the names of its heroes across the screen as they strike their respective poses, yet within twenty minutes, you've already forgotten who's supposed to be who (save for the requisite oversexed loudmouth). Everyone in Hammer of the Gods has the same grim expression glued to their maws, muttering about family and honor as if just mentioning these virtues suddenly makes them all deep (kind of like what the Fast/Furious movies do, only with more battle axes involved).
Hammer of the Gods appears too busy putting on the most serious face it can to actually involve viewers in its big quest. The locations all share a similarly drab look, the dialogue is even more unmemorable than what you tend to hear in movies of this ilk, and all that sets the fights apart from each other involves whatever major character has been called up to perish at that time. It seems a little unusual to see a film being this cavalier about killing off principal players, though no tears are shed nor mind paid when the members of this motley crew start getting whittled off. Bewley certainly has the physique and enough acting chops to play a convincingly tough cookie like Steinar, although I'm pretty sure he's not the wuss the screenplay wants us to think he is. It comes to pass that part of the point in Steinar's journey is to whip him into action and make a man out of him, but he hurls himself into danger and busts plenty of heads for me to buy his badass nature before he sets a single foot amongst the Saxons.
The best that can be said about Hammer of the Gods is that it goes down painlessly. Though one wishes the action had more variety to it and the emotional stakes actually existed, it's a quick watch that gives less discriminatory viewers the basic thrills they paid good money to see. Hammer of the Gods is plenty big and burly, but don't be shocked if you end up tuning out its sound and fury before the first act is up.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "R" by MPAA.)