in Action, Dick Flicks, Drama

  • Stars: Karl Urban, Clancy Brown
  • Directors: Marcus Nispel
  • Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay), Nils Gaup (1987 screenplay “Veiviseren”)

Laeta Kalogridis.  Famous for “Shutter Island” (screenwriter) and “Avatar” (producer).  Writer/producer for the short-lived “Birds of Prey” TV series and the “Bionic Woman” reboot.  I mention the last two with regret; I was a big fan of both.  So I was excited to see Kalogridis’ take on this spin of the intruder-goes-native flick, based on Nils Gaup’s 1987 script.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Most hero-saves-the-world legends follow a fairly simple formula, and “Pathfinder” is no exception.  There once was a Viking boy (Karl Urban, whose character is never named in the film) who was abandoned on unsettled (by Europeans) American shores for refusing to slaughter the natives.  Adopted and raised by an indigenous tribe, he finds peace and harmony in his new land but is never fully accepted by the only people he calls family.  Suddenly, years after his abandonment by his blood kin, a second deadly wave of Viking intruders swarms the idyllic shores, cutting mercilessly through the villages, fueled apparently by unadulterated evil and bloodlust.  And guess who the Native Americans’ only hope is?  You got it:  our Viking-turned-native, who apparently picked up enough Norse battle and combat techniques by age twelve to pick off seasoned Viking warriors by twos and threes.

Somewhere in there is a wise old man (Russell Means) who counsels our hero to give up his vengeance and reconcile his two worlds and – you guessed it again – a beautiful girl (Moon Bloodgood) who turns her back on her people to chase after her white knight (so to speak).  Clancy Brown, nearly unrecognizable beneath ninety-eight pounds of steel, horns, and armor, growls his way through the movie as the ruthless leader of the Viking horde, barking out the most fluent Old Norse, or possibly Klingon, I’ve ever heard.  He’s hell-bent on eradicating the peace-loving natives, and he’s personally ticked off that the guy standing in his way is one of his own.

In case it’s not clear from the tone of this review, this is not a great movie.  It’s not really a good movie.  Epics don’t necessarily have to be original or unique or even three-dimensional.  But “Pathfinder” lacks oomph all around.  The cinematography is stylized but without substance, the dialogue and acting (what little of it there is) is stilted, and the Viking costumes are pretty ridiculous.  The action is okay, but with little character or story to connect to the viewer, it’s only so much gore.  I admit, I was foolish and unabashedly sexist and had high hopes for such an action movie written by a female.  I was sorely disappointed.

Dick flick?  Absolutely.  The protagonist is male; the head bad guy is male.  (I don’t hold this against Kalogridis.  You can’t change the system alone, and you still have to pay the bills.)  The three key females, all supporting, are the love interest, the mother, and the little sister (the last two named simply Indian Mother and Little Sister in the credits).  In fact, I was hard-pressed to pick out any other females in the whole movie, even in the background of two villages where, one would assume, women must exist, if only to breed.  The army of intruding Vikings was, of course, entirely male.  And have no fear, there is the obligatory rape scene.

As for those scarce women… well, I won’t quite say they’re wimpy.  Bloodgood seizes weapons and stones and fights alongside her muscle-bound brethren.  But she and the mother character both scream like girls, for lack of a better phrase.  When Indian Mother stumbles upon a dead body in a ghostly Viking ship, she lets loose a blood-curdling shriek that would make any scream queen proud.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a wimp, but I would scream if I tripped over a corpse.  But in an era when death and violence and general grisliness were an ingrained part of everyday life, would a woman really deem such a sight screamworthy?

What I do admire is the pleasant lack of dialogue, and that’s not a backhanded compliment to Kalogridis.  Frivolous chitchat likely did not abound in this ancient era of day-by-day survival, and it’s refreshing to watch a self-proclaimed action epic that is driven almost wholly by action.  Look away, and you miss subtle (relatively speaking) plot points.  I don’t even recall a single character’s name being uttered throughout.  This is not a movie to watch with half an eye.  And though virtually everything in the story can be foreseen six scenes in advance, one significant turn of events took me completely by surprise.

The spare dialogue and the surprise turn, which puts a neat spin on the usual gone-native routine, are the saving graces that keep “Pathfinder” off the Worst Ever list.  I’m tempted to recommend the movie just for this small twist, but I honestly don’t know if it’s worth slogging through the rest of it.

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