Mighty Thor is the bad guy in “Vikingdom: The Red Eclipse,” which also distinguishes itself from his recent Marvel screen adventures by having been produced on a fraction of their budgets. This first serious stab at Western markets by Malaysia’s Kru Studios is a cheerfully silly action fantasy more comparable to the vintage juvenile likes of Italian sword ‘n’ sandal epics, Ray Harryhausen pics, kiddie-matinee serials and goofy kung fu fantasies than to today’s superhero tentpole extravaganzas; fanboys, of course, will howl in pain nonetheless. Day-and-date U.S. release on Oct. 4 (with some screens showing 3D prints) is likely to get a kinder reception on the VOD side; rollout in numerous other territories continues through year’s end and beyond.
After an opening-credits segment that makes no bones about looking just like a videogame, we get a bloody CGI battlefield where Viking prince Eirick (Dominic Purcell) lies dying, telling surviving younger brother Beothric (Tim P. Doughty) to “rule well, as Father wished.” But “My story begins the day I died,” Eirick immediately adds in voiceover. He’s been magically revived to stop “god-made man” Thor (Conan Stevens in magenta beard and fright wig) from opening a door between heaven, earth and hell” during a rare upcoming “red eclipse.” This quest will require various feats which only an undead, as Eirick now is, can accomplish.
Eirick first assembles his warrior team, consisting of right-hand man Sven (Craig Fairbrass); token sassy female ass-whupper/sexpot Brynna (Natassia Malthe); incongruously far-from-home Chinese martial-arts fighter Yang (Jon Foo); and many pro-wrestler-looking types who go shirtless even when it snows. They then sail off toward various kinds of danger, along the way rescuing a slippery wizard (Patrick Murray), combating a zombie-ghoul army, engaging in battle scenes overly indebted to the look of “300,” and finally arriving at the inevitable climactic smackdown between hero and Thor.
“Vikingdom” is lively and colorful, albeit in ways that will often seem cheesy to audiences accustomed to more sophisticated and expensive fare. There are some nice visual ideas, such as the herd of thrashing underwater horses that suddenly greet our swimming protag, or the “Gate of Souls,” which consists of umpteen writhing women sprayed a “Goldfinger” hue. Then there’s the giant hellhound that looks more papier-mache than perilous, and one of the most unconvincing bear costumes ever. (Worse, after wrestling and stabbing this hairy hilarity to death, Eirick solemnly intones, “Forgive me, old friend.”)
This most ambitious production to date from Malay musician-turned-fantasy specialist Yusry Kru (Yusry Abdul Halim) often resembles a fairy-tale costume party, its Northern European Dark Ages scarcely resembling the more realistic takes in films like “Valhalla Rising.” While acting muscles are not especially exercised here, giggles are duly induced by several supporting turns, notably from Jesse Moss, attired in the campiest unisex drag imaginable as the platinum-blond Lord Frey. (The look is slightly better on Lady Freja, played by Jesse’s real-life sibling Tegan Moss.)
James Coyne’s screenplay is a near-nonsensical string of action setpieces that’s not without humor, although the dialogue (“Shh! Someone’s approaching — and it’s not one of us!”) often amuses unintentionally. Held alongside Hollywood’s CGI blowouts, the result will inevitably seem pretty tacky in both tenor and execution. More properly considered as an update of juvenile phantasmagorias like Mario Bava’s 1961 “Hercules in the Haunted World” (or Luigi Cozzi’s 1980s Hercules pics with Lou Ferrigno), it’s unpretentious fun best suited to younger viewers, provided their parents don’t mind exposure to a few severed limbs. (Most kids have doubtless seen worse in videogames, anyway.)
Tech/design package is pro if not exactly classy. Helmer’s brother Edry A. Halim contributes a score that seldom lets you forget the influence of “Carmina Burana” on similar efforts in the last three decades. And yes, there is a closing-credits power ballad.