The 13th Warrior

A group of twelve gruntin’, scratchin’, wandering Vikings is called back to its home by a child oracle to fight a deadly band of attackers. The oracle states, however, that there should also be a 13th warrior, one who is not from the north country. Enter Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), an Arab who’s just passing through and is already disgusted by the slovenly habits of the Vikings. So off goes the troupe. They’re attacked a few times along the way, in the middle of the night as the fog rolls in (eerie!), and are stunned to find no casualties of their attackers, even though several were killed during each skirmish. Hmm! Turns out these are flesh-eaters, always part of myth but never seen even in those times. You know, one of those stories that’s been handed down from generation to generation, but it’s been so long since anyone who witnessed the stories firsthand was alive that the tales are more fiction than fact.

Well, now our boys know what they’re up against, but it takes them the entire movie to really get things going. For once, Banderas is not the hero, not the swashbuckler of “The Mask of Zorro” or the gunslinger of “Desperado.” The Vikings are the tough guys, and at first they patronize the outsider who doesn’t speak their language. But soon he does, and soon he’s one of the gang. Here’s to male bonding!

The plusses of this movie are its cinematography and atmosphere (even my TV set smelled a little murky) and solid action performances by a fine (and international) cast. Downside: there ARE some subtitles, especially at the beginning when the Vikings speak Nordic and Banderas stands, uncomprehending. I guess it’s for his benefit as much as for our benefit that those subtitles are there, because he eventually learns the language simply by listening to them. So if you can take a grunting, scratching, me-big-male, chest-thumping movie, watch this.

The 13th Warrior: ***

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