After watching Pathfinder, the only positive thing I have to say about it—other than it’s better than this week’s Redline, which is no great accomplishment—is that the movie has a great chance of joining such films as The Beastmaster (1982) and The Running Man (1987) in constant basic-cable rotation. It has that perfect blend of plotlessness and complete lack of characterization to make itself right at home being played once a week on TBS or the Sci-Fi Channel for the next 10 years. It’s every bit as uninspired, inept and brainless as you would expect from the man who helmed the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), director Marcus Nispel.
The film centers around Ghost (Karl Urban, Doom), a man of Norse decent who is abandoned in North America by a group of Viking invaders as a child, and is quickly taken in and raised by a tribe of Native Americans. The film then flashes forward 15 years, when a separate group of Norsemen arrive in America and attempt to stake their claim once again. It’s not until they raze Ghost’s village to the ground that he decides to take revenge on his former countrymen.
The movie then becomes a weird combination of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and The 13th Warrior (1999)—with a smattering of Apocalypto (2006), Predator (1987) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and any other movie where someone is running around in the woods killing other people, since that is the major crux of this film. The action is supposed to be brutal and shocking; there’s all manner of creative bloodletting, from decapitations to impalings, but none of it is anything that hasn’t been done before. All of this bloodletting might have had a chance to work on a purely visceral, guilty-pleasure level, but the action is managed so ineptly that it quickly becomes repetitive. Nispel shows that he, like the majority of modern directors, has no idea how to handle an action sequence. What he offers is a lot of shaky-cam close-ups of men fighting and grunting a lot, followed by Ghost jumping off a log or a rock or whatever happens to be handy for jumping off of.
Much of the dialogue is stilted and silly, and there are numerous lapses in logic. I’m not expecting constant believability in a film like this, but how many times can a man fall into a river or lake in the dead of winter before finally getting hypothermia? The least they could do is explain how Ghost manages to immediately dry off. Add the fact that Nispel insists on shooting the entire movie in a drab, washed-out, blue-gray hue (Pathfinder has to be one of the dreariest and ugliest films I have ever watched), and the movie has little, if anything, going for it.
The makers attempt to trump up the importance of the film with a title card at the beginning explaining that Vikings did indeed land in America before Columbus, and that Pathfinder is the “legend” of how they were turned back and stopped from permanently settling here. Of course, it’s never mentioned that Scandinavian settlements dating back 1,000 years and inhabited for decades have been found in Newfoundland, but I assume that’s not as awesome as some guy getting his head chopped off. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout.
— reviewed by Justin Souther