Karl Urban as Ghost
Russell Means as Pathfinder
Moon Bloodgood as Starfire
Jay Tavare as Blackwing
Clancy Brown as Gunnar
Nathaniel Arcand as Wind in Tree
Ralf Moeller as Ulfar
Kevin Loring as Jester
Wayne Charles Baker as Indian Father
Burkely Duffield as Ghost 12 Years Old
Ray G. Thunderchild as Elder #1
Duane Howard as Elder #2
Brandon Oakes as Elder #3
Alain Hudon as Elder #4
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Cool concept and stylish visuals aside, “Pathfinder” isn’t strong enough to offer the type of prolonged escapism that one might expect from a movie that pits Vikings against Indians.
Stop me if you’ve already heard the story about the commercial director who had a huge hit with a horror remake and followed it by making a historic battle epic pitting two very different people in a visually stylish blood-splattering movie tied into a graphic novel. If you guessed that we’re referring to Zack “300” Snyder than you’d be wrong. Instead, “Pathfinder” is the new movie from Marcus Nispel, who started a trend with his 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and came up with such a cool concept for its follow-up that it would only require three words to get most guys’ immediate interest: “Vikings vs. Indians.”
True, it’s an exciting idea for an action movie, but as we quickly learn, it’s not one that’s able to sustain itself for an entire feature film, since there’s only so much that can be done with the concept before things start getting dull. At first, it might not seem like a very fair battle as the movie’s Indian stereotypes, who we see smoking peace pipes and dancing around the fire, are forced to face barbaric Norse Gods whose savage brutality seems unstoppable. The opening credits gives us a glimpse of some of their horrifying acts, followed by a sequence in which an Indian woman finds an abandoned boy amidst a Viking shipwreck. Her tribe takes the boy in and raises him as Ghost (Karl Urban), a white-skinned outsider trying to find his true calling, but never being fully accepted in the tribe. When another band of Vikings arrive and pillage his village, Ghost gets his chance to save other tribes from a similar fate, taking on the Vikings with the help of his beloved, played by Moon Bloodgood, while being forced to confront his own dual nature.
“Pathfinder” probably has more similarities to Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” than to “300” in that it’s shot outdoors in natural settings, which certainly adds a lot more realism to what’s just as much a comic book concept. The film is supposedly based on some mythical folklore of Vikings coming to North America but being stopped by some mythical force before Norwegian could become the country’s primary language. One shouldn’t try too think too hard about any historical accuracy, though, because if one did, one might start wondering why the natives are speaking English centuries before any English-speaking people ever settled there. Nispel doesn’t waste too much time setting up the simple plot before moving onto the action set pieces that make up the majority of the movie.
As the heroes of the story, Karl Urban and Moon Bloodgood both have more dramatic chops than one usually expects from these sorts of movies, and Bloodgood gets into the action enough to not be stuck in the “damsel in distress” role. Sadly though, Urban shows off more skin, probably the only thing about the movie that women might find appealing. For the most part, the battle choreography isn’t that great, and there just isn’t a lot of tension or excitement as you watch the same pattern over and over–Vikings slaughter Indians, Ghost and his allies get a bit of revenge, the Vikings regain the upper-hand, wash, rinse and repeat. It’s kind of strange that the odds seem so overwhelming and yet, the Vikings don’t really pose much of a challenge for Ghost when he starts hitting back. Even with its original concept, one can quickly predict every single beat of the story from the way things are telegraphed, so it doesn’t take long for one’s interest to start wandering. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or the usual snappy quips to disrupt the flow of the action, but at least once, the movie devolves into utter silliness when a group of Vikings chase Ghost down the side of a snow-covered mountain on sleds. (No, I’m not making this up, and yes, it really looks as ludicrous as it sounds.)
There’s no question that the movie is an amazing achievement in costumes, production design and finding the stunning locations where the film was shot, but for whatever reason, Marcus Nispel decided to use a minimal color palette, which gives the entire film a grey hue with brighter colors on fire (think of Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima”) but the lack of color is sometimes distracting, and it gets frustrating when one realizes how much more beautiful the film’s landscapes and vistas would have looked in full color.
The Bottom Line:
Not terrible, but far from the greatness that the idea promises, “Pathfinder” never really rises above the fact that it’s a cool premise and a cool-looking film with very little actual depth. If you’re a fan of Vikings or Indians, by all means give “Pathfinder” a shot. If nothing else, it will cure you of any such obsession by getting it out of your system.