Like many successful combinations before it, Outlander has taken two bodies of work with rich traditions and histories and made them mix together in an entirely improbable way. The result of this mad-scientist action is a piece of ridiculously fun cinema.
James “Passion of the Christ” Caviezel gets it done as Kainan, one of a squad of world-conquering badasses who do the dirty work of eliminating the indigenous planetary life so colonists can move in. His ship crash lands on 8th century Norway (did I mention his world conquering badasses are from an advanced civilization?) and he gets captured by a tribe of vikings. Turns out one of the indigenous planetary life that was thought to be eliminated stowed aboard his ship–hence the crash landing–and is now running amok. Our hero bands with the vikings to eliminate the alien and all manner of heck ensues.
Great casting. I seriously enjoyed watching as “Jesus” saves. Caviezel has enough smolder in all of his scenes to make the entire tribe feel for him. If there’s any complaint, his dialogue seems pretty forced when he’s doing something other than barking orders or monosyllabic battle yelling. John Hurt plays the aging King Rothgar with nods to Lord of the Rings’ Theoden, Gladiator’s Caesar Marcus Aurelius, and really any other doomed father of a strong-willed daughter. Speaking of which, Sophia Myles does a good job as Freya, daughter of the king. She played a somewhat conniving blonde vampire in the first Underworld movie which you may remember mixed Vampires and werewolves quite effectively. Her character here is comely (and a redhead) but with a very strong element of asskickery. Jack Huston plays Wulfric as a suitor to Freya and heir apparent. Might just be bad costuming but he seemed like a copy of Karl Urban’s Eomer from Lord of the Rings. There’s a few scene-stealing cameos by Ron Perlman as rival King Gunnar, too.
The indigenous lifeform is played off as a dragon, and it fits the bill nicely. You don’t really get a good shot of it until a lot of the movie has gone by, and the glimpses bait it effectively as a real angry mofo of an alien. The near-invisible nature of the beast is explained away as it having the power over light and shadow. One of the better reveals of the creature echoes the reveal of the monster from one of my favorite movies Forbidden Planet starring a very young (yet still really old looking) Leslie Nielsen and Robby the Robot. The creature in Forbidden Planet is invisible until it walks through a force field and the field lines warp around it and outline it but never give it a clear form. Pretty impressive for 1956, I think. Both movies let the viewer fill in the details and it makes the unknown scarier. Of course the creature does get center stage later and the creepiness is not diminished. Thankfully the cinematographer and editor did not decide to riddle the movie with slow motion and jump cuts to heighten the tension.
Anyone who’s read Beowulf (or seen any of the various movie adaptations) will immediately appreciate the plot and flow of the film. It’s done differently, though as Kainan’s character is not a superhuman nor does his ego cloud the proceedings. In fact, many of the obvious cliched tropes of action moviedom are avoided though there are plenty. The competition between Kainan and Wulfrik for dominance (and for Freya) is never really addressed, and the understatement is appreciated. While there is a kid-character, the conversation between the kid and Kainan is kept to a bare minimum. There’s only one “where is it? where is it? OMG it’s right behind you!” moment. The comic-relief character isn’t leaned upon too heavily and when he gets his hero’s death it’s done tastefully. The movie is paced very well; there are no real surprises about who lives and who dies and when, and only one scene regarding shields goes on a bit too long.
On the whole, it’s an action movie, through and through. It delivers on almost every level in that regard, and it deserves a look-see for not letting the viewer down.