One man with a big sword challenges a horde of ruthless butchers in Pathfinder, a movie undermined by an excessive amount of gruesome slaughter and idiotic action sequences. For most of its 98 minutes, this lackluster adventure looks like your typical video game in which a heroic figure must mow down randomly appearing enemies to advance to the next level.
Set 600 years before Columbus, Pathfinder tells the story of an abandoned Viking boy adopted by Native Americans and raised as one of them. Fifteen years later, he has grown into a warrior named Ghost (Karl Urban), who vows to destroy anyone who seeks to harm his guardians.
Shortly after, a troop of barbaric Norsemen drop anchor in North America in an attempt to eradicate all of its people and thus claim possession of the continent. Driven by revenge, Ghost sets out on a perilous mission to kill as many Vikings as he can.
It is hard to believe that a movie as monotonous as Pathfinder is based on Nils Gaup's screenplay for the Norwegian movie Pathfinder / Ofelas, which received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in 1987. But then again, this updated version written by Laeta Kalogridis (she of Oliver Stone's Alexander) and directed by Marcus Nispel (he of several music videos and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) heads into a totally different direction.
The real downside of this revamped tale is that the filmmakers put no emphasis whatsoever on characters or story development. Consequently, the plot suffers from slumber-inducing simple-mindedness: The Vikings show up and kill, Ghost strikes back and takes his revenge, and before we know it the movie is over. And why should anyone care? Neither Ghost nor his close friends carry even a modicum of personality.
Although the numerous action sequences are generally well made, they also tend to be repetitive. Even worse, most of what takes place on-screen comes down to a free-for-all bloodbath, packed with decapitations and geysers of human blood. In one scene, for instance, we get to watch the Vikings literally tear off the four limbs of an old man.
Other than the high degree of violence, Pathfinder has absolutely nothing else to offer. The limited dialogue is mostly undermined by the subtitled roaring of the Norsemen, who look and behave like giant orcs from The Lord of the Rings. The few spoken lines in English are cheesy and shallow, and come down to something like: “Run and you may live. Fight them, you will die.” Spooky.
Historians will probably curse Pathfinder for its inaccurate portrayal of the Vikings, but since the movie makes it clear that its plot is based on an untold legend, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that said legend should have been left untold.
© Franck Tabouring.
Pathfinder (2007). Dir.: Marcus Nispel. Scr.: Laeta Kalogridis, from Nils Gaup's screenplay for the 1987 film Ofelas / Pathfinder. Cast: Karl Urban, Russell Means, Moon Bloodgood, Jay Tavare.