'Ragnarok' is a charming but hackneyed action-fantasy that should have gone straight to video
Ragnarok Magnolia Pictures
Director: Mikkel Brænne Sandemose
Screenplay: John Kåre Raake
Starring: Pål Sverre Hagen, Maria Annette Tanderø Berglyd, Sofia Helin, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Julian Podolski and Bjørn Sundquist
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 36 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
I wish they made more movies like Ragnarok. Which is not to say Ragnarok is a movie to be emulated. What I said was, more movies like it. It, itself, is earnestly but cheaply made, with little imagination, a littler effects budget, and a bad ending. But the movie it wants to be, or is trying to be? That is what I want to see. A rousing, old-fashioned adventure movie with a fundamentally silly spirit. We don't get a lot of that kind these days, and the last one I remember involved aliens and crystal skulls and is best left undiscussed.
Indeed, Ragnarok - a Norwegian import from director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose - seems to take a lot of its cues from the Indiana Jones series. The hero isn't a professor, but he is an archaeologist who works at a history museum, spends his time researching arcane historical artifacts and, when he has to, embarking on wild goose chases that neither his boss nor his family seems to support.
The bulk of the film finds Sigurd (Pål Sverre Hagen) doing just that, embarking on an expedition to the jungles of Finnmark - right into the heart of a place that has been all but abandoned by modern civilization - to try and prove his theories about the exploits of the ancient Vikings. For some inexplicable reason, he drags along his two kids - despite the potentially grueling and dangerous nature of the journey - before meeting up with his research partner Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) and the brilliant adventurer (and conveniently attractive) Elisabeth (Sofia Helin). Off they go, with a suspicious, mysterious, foreboding guide, Leif (Bjørn Sundquist), on board to lead the way and help break into all the gated areas they're not supposed to be.
(Don't worry, the suspicious, mysterious, foreboding guide with the stern, unsmiling face definitely won't betray everyone when he realizes the archaeological finds might be worth a lot of money. That definitely will not happen. Mark my words.)
Anyway: Some mysterious inscriptions on recently uncovered artifacts have led Sigurd to believe that something terrible may have happened when the Vikings traveled north to Finnmark centuries ago, and he believes he's close to confirming the answers. The film tips us off that he's on the right track, as it opens on a scene amongst the Vikings, at the edge of the very forest where the rest of the story takes place, getting ready to face off against an ominous evil despite the warnings of the Viking leaders' daughter.
Ragnarok ham-handedly tries to link the story of the Viking father and daughter with the modern-day narrative, as Sigrud's 13-year-old Ragnhild (Maria Annette Tanderø Berglyd), resents the whole trip and seems generally disappointed in her father as a whole. (Sigrud's son, Brage - played by Julian Podolski - is much more gung-ho.) The father/daughter relationship is the emotional core of the film, and it works up to a point - just not when the movie tries to force the issue.
Once our heroes reach their destination - a tiny island in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a forest - it's clear that something scary is bubbling underneath the surface. And it turns out that something is a giant computer-animated snake.
By this point in the movie, it's an engaging enough ride - Sandemose does a nice job with his locations and in setting the backdrop for a potentially nice payoff - but when the CGI snake arrives, it's a game-changer. What seemed like a modest adventure movie all of a sudden transforms into something you'd expect to see on the SyFy Channel. It reminded me of when I saw Christophe Gans' Brotherhood of the Wolf, which is actually quite a nice movie overall, but which temporarily turns into high camp every time the badly rendered CGI wolf shows up.
Ragnarok, unfortunately, doesn't recover from its worst moments nearly as well as Brotherhood does; instead it basically goes downhill once the adventure starts. Sandemose and screenwriter John Kåre Raake are seemingly incapable of devising any sequence or subplot that doesn't have a predetermined outcome. For instance: Sigurd is a single father, his wife having passed away years earlier. Enter Elisabeth, who's brave and charming and pretty, and who doesn't hesitate to ask about Sigurd's relationship status despite insisting she's a lone wolf who doesn't need a family. The film doesn't waste any time - once they're in the jungle, Elisabeth almost immediately starts doing motherly things with Ragnhild, like helping her apply mosquito repellant, or saving her life from a scary monster. Typical mother stuff.
Ditto the fate of the scary, suspicious, mysterious, foreboding, unsmiling guide who - did I forget to mention? - carries a shotgun around. The audience is three steps ahead of the script at all times, and neither the action nor the suspense (and certainly not the special effects) are good enough to make up for that. I said earlier that I wish more movies like this were still being made, and I do - but an example like this perhaps shows exactly why they're not.