Like many people, I have little interest in historical wars not involving Nazis or orcs, so I don’t know much about the battles between the Vikings and the Saxons in England in the ninth century A.D. Fortunately, there are educational films like “Hammer of the Gods” to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.
Covered in grime and blood and leaving a trail of puke everywhere it goes, “Hammer of the Gods” is a gross movie about brutal people hacking each other to death with swords. The hackingest person is our hero, Steinar (Charlie Bewley), the brooding “bad boy” warrior son of the Viking king in 871 A.D., and the David Beckham of his day. Steinar is a real top-notch Saxon-slaughterer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a short, stylishly unkempt haircut and the overall demeanor of an American Apparel model.
His father, King Bagsecg (James Cosmo), got slashed in the gut during the last round of Saxon violence, and it’s 871 A.D., so pretty much all injuries are fatal. But before he dies in agony several days from now, he wants Steinar to go find his eldest son, Hakan, who was banished years ago, and tell him he gets to be king after all, no hard feelings. Bagsecg’s reasoning is that despite whatever he was banished for, Hakan was a real kick-ass warrior, and that’s all the Vikings really need in a leader after all. The current heir to the throne, Harald, is a wimp, and Bagsecg doesn’t think Steinar is fit to be king either (though he’s trustworthy enough to be sent on errands like finding his exiled brother so he can be king).
So then guess what? There’s a whole movie of resentful Steinar, his three oafish buddies, and his bastard half-brother Vali (Theo Barklem-Biggs) trekking through the hills and forests to find Hakan. People we don’t like in search of a guy we don’t know. Occasionally they are interrupted by Saxons, and there’s a skirmish accompanied by dubstep music, and all the Saxons get killed, and sure, that’s fun to watch if you like geysers of blood and dubstep music. But mostly it’s just Steinar & Co. walking around, arguing over whether certain “omens” portend good or ill, having pugnacious conversations about Viking religion, and generally being unpleasant dillweeds who swear constantly, loudly, and anachronistically.
The tone of the movie is lightened, as it often is in these situations, by the arrival of an obese pederast. This is Ivar (Ivan Kaye), a jolly exiled Viking who used to have sex with boys back in the Viking village (don’t worry; everyone finds it pretty amusing now). He currently lives in the wilderness and keeps a teenage boy on a chain and has a slave girl do his dishes, which is a pretty good setup for a banished pedophile, all things considered.
Steinar and his fellowship have come all this way to ask Ivar where Hakan is. You see, when your story is centered around someone looking for something, you have to come up with lots of ways to prevent them from finding it or else you’ll be over too soon. That’s why Steinar couldn’t just look for Hakan; first he had to look for Ivar, and then Ivar would tell him where to look for Hakan. To kill even more time, Ivar refuses to say where Hakan is unless Steinar can beat him in a combination arm-wrestling tournament and drinking challenge — oh, and if Steinar loses, he has to be Ivar’s sex slave for the night, because this movie wasn’t icky enough already. Steinar wins, thank goodness. Crisis averted, time wasted, etc.
Then it’s more walking and fighting and killing and arguing, and members of Steinar’s group start numbering among the casualties because this is the sort of movie where everyone is going to die, because dying is rad. Steinar is almost the only one left by the time he finds Hakan (Elliot Cowan), who it turns out has spent his exile years building a weird cult around himself with the assistance of their mother (Glynis Barber), who everyone thought was dead but who was here the whole time, doing incest with Hakan, for more grossness.
Hakan, Mom, and their followers all believe that the gods have chosen Hakan as the rightful king. As luck would have it, the very reason for Steinar’s visit is to invite him to come be the king! Except that in the course of his journey, Steinar realized that he himself has what it takes to lead the Vikings, i.e., he is remarkably good at killing Saxons. Emboldened by his newfound self-esteem, he refuses to accept Hakan as the heir, no matter what Dad says.
As you’d imagine, the only way to settle the matter is for Hakan and Steinar to be lowered into a pit and have a shirtless knife fight until one of them is dead. That protocol is indeed followed, and Steinar emerges victorious after biting off his brother’s ear and snapping his neck. He pushes Mom to her death, then goes home to kill Harald in front of their father, who chuckles approvingly. The Aristocrats!