Review: The 13th Warrior (1999)


Director: John McTiernan | 102 minutes | action, adventure, fantasy | Actors: Antonio Banderas, Vladimir Kulich, Dennis Storhøi, Daniel Southern, Neil Maffin, John DeSantis, Clive Russell, Mischa Hausserman

Before September 11, 2001 went down as a Black Day, it was not uncommon in Hollywood for Arab people to star in a real blockbuster. How about, for example, the energetic Aladin in the 1992 Disney cartoon of the same name? Seven years after that hit cartoon, the slightly more violent “The 13th Warrior” hit theaters. Coincidentally also with an Arab in the lead. In a heroic role.

Based on Michael Crichton’s book “Eaters Of The Dead”, “The 13th Warrior”, tells of the Arab Ahmad Ibn Fadlan (Banderas). After a brief affair with the wife of a high-ranking official, the poor man is promoted to the West. Fadlan must leave Baghdad and save his own skin in the far North. Once at his destination, the Arab ends up in a Viking camp that receives him hospitably. Not without reason. Fadlan is considered the 13th warrior. An ally in the fight against a group of monstrous creatures that threaten the Viking tribe. Can the pacifist Fadlan be convinced to go with the fierce Normans? And who are those monsters anyway? A rock-hard journey begins.

Although an Arab plays the leading role, it is best to take that fact with a good grain of salt. The Spanish actor Antonio Banderas doesn’t look like an Arab at all. But still: the very idea that an Arab character claims the lead role in an American film and then also in a hero role is quite special. So much for the political correctness of “The 13th Warrior”. What this movie is all about is tough action. Have no fear: director John McTiernan does not disappoint. The film is well filled with raw stunts and gallons of blood.

Between all the hacking and sawing, there is also a story to tell. A wafer-thin story, but still. The cast knows how to camouflage everything well with their energetic playing. Especially the charismatic Banderas is looking forward to it. In fact, the Spanish actor is the beating heart of the film. Most of the characters consist of a gang of grumpy Northmen who, apart from some grunts, have very little to say. McTiernan knows how to portray the macho culture in his film. The gentle Fadlan is a nice contrast between the pumped-up testosterone bombs.

The battle scenes are well portrayed, the actors are sufficient, the pace is high and the camera work looks fine. All sounds good, but still there is a few things wrong with “The 13th Warrior”. The tension is too weak, so that the film never becomes exciting or really oppressive. There is a lot of fighting, but suspense is not built up. It is also a pity that the costumes of the Normans are not convincing. The men, as you know them from the history books, look more like primitive knights than an organized group with its own dress code. Furthermore, a lax romance between Fadlan and a Viking woman detracts from the film. The affair takes the momentum out of the film.

What remains is an entertaining action movie in which many sword fights and other primitive conservations with fatal consequences take place. Fun, rude and noisy. Ideal popcorn movie. With an Arab in the lead.

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