Usually, whenever a movie based on a comic book comes out, I’ve at least heard of the source material, no matter how obscure it is (“Bulletproof Monk”, “Mystery Men”, “Men in Black”, “Tank Girl”). Yet I had never once heard of Dark Horse Comics’ “Pathfinder” graphic novel until I saw the trailers for this movie. I feel almost ashamed.
Six hundred years before Columbus came to the Americas, the Vikings were already raping and pillaging the local Indians. During one of their usual plunder parties, the Vikings left behind a small boy. The Indians, believing the boy to be part of a prophecy, took him in and raised him as their own. Now named Ghost (Karl Urban), the boy has grown into manhood and become skilled in both the ways of the Indians and the Vikings. His ultimate test awaits him as the Viking marauders return to finish what they started. Lead by the towering horrorshow Gunnar (Clancy Brown), the Vikings begin to ruthlessly destroy everything Ghost holds dear, until he is the only one left who can stop them.
“Pathfinder” is light on story, characters and dialogue but heavy on action, carnage and bloodshed. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about this film. “Pathfinder” seems to have aspirations of becoming the next “300”, or at least riding on the wave of its popularity. While it shares similarities in spirit to the recent Frank Miller film, it does everything about half as good.
“Pathfinder” is a movie that relies almost entirely on its action sequences, which is a bit of a problem, since so much of the action in this film is both derivative and confusing. With all the shaky cam effects, muddy atmosphere, dim lighting, snow, rain and quick cuts I’m left unsure if I’m watching a bunch of Vikings and Indians going at it or that video from “The Ring”. When the action sequences aren’t so over-garnished with “style” that you can actually make out what’s going on, it’s all a bit “meh”. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, seen recently, or seen done better.
Every cloud has its silver lining, though. Historically accurate or not, the way they portrayed the Vikings was quite good. They’re presented more like the Orcs from “Lord of the Rings”: vile, grotesque, blood-thirsty monsters. Thanks to the dim lighting and murky atmosphere, you can’t see their faces beneath their helmets the majority of the time, leaving them with a very demonic and inhuman presence. This does have its drawbacks, I must confess. Because of this technique, none of the Vikings are distinguishable from one another. I was only able to tell Gunnar apart from the rest of the horn-headed mob because I could recognize his voice (the guy is Mr. Krabs on “Spongebob Squarepants”, after all).
And speaking of Clancy Brown, he was my favorite thing about this movie. The guy’s fantastic, both on screen and behind the mike, and while Gunnar may not have been the deepest villain in cinematic history, Brown brought him to life with tremendous success. It made me nostalgic for “Highlander” all through the film.
Despite a fine performance from Clancy Brown and a few inspired effects, “Pathfinder” is mostly just a mess. Rent it if you want to see something that’s “kinda like ‘300’ only not as good”, but don’t waste your $10 bucks on a ticket.