Today, superhero films are a dime a dozen and with DC and Marvel Studios pretty much dominating cinemas and streaming services with a vast array of live action comic book superhero adaptations, it’s understandably difficult for others to compete, particularly when it’s an original superhero story not based on any specific comic book title. However, not only are the film-makers and studios that are attempting to bring us something new competing against the DC/Marvel giants, they’re also running into an issue with audiences weened on pure spectacle for the last 30+ years: audience boredom.
Boredom (from what I’ve managed to discern from some of the other reviews I’ve read) seems to be the main issue viewers are having with Norwegian director Andre Ovredal’s (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) 2020 unique spin on the superhero story, Mortal, complaining that the ‘exciting’ parts are ‘few and far between’. Personally, after the oftentimes mentally fatiguing experience of the latest Marvel film, I prefer a slow burn of a film, especially when it IS within the superhero sub-genre. I might be overstepping myself a bit by referring to Mortal as a ‘superhero’ story so let me tweak that a bit; Mortal is a story that contains a lot of the same elements found in superhero films. Before continuing, I have to reiterate:
It’s going to be impossible for me to say much about this film WITHOUT mildly spoiling some of it so, continue at your own risk!
Mortal tells the story of Eric (Nat Wolff (the upcoming The Stand series and Death Note live-action)), a young American, homeless and alone in Norway who, quite by accident, discovers that he’s imbued with God-like powers that he neither understands nor can control. After killing a local youth and bully while defending himself, Eric finds himself under arrest and awaiting extradition from Norway back to America at the behest of an unknown US Government agency. However, the Police Department where he’s being held is ill equipped to deal with Eric’s ‘issues’ and soon find out how unintentionally dangerous he really is.
After rookie counselor, Christine (Iben Akerlie (Norsemen, Mammon)), who is questioning her own self-worth, discovers that Eric’s powers manifest themselves whenever he is in extreme emotional duress, she is able to get through to him enough to stop the destruction he’s causing to the police department. In the meantime, Hathaway, someone (Priyanka Bose (Gangor, Lion)) claiming to be from the American Embassy, ill-advisedly attempts to ‘escort’ a sedated Eric back to the United States via helicopter. Eric wakes up shortly after take-off and thus begins an incredibly suspenseful and often breath-taking journey as Eric and Christine, who he’s fallen in love with, attempt to discover the source of Eric’s powers which seem to lie somewhere within the legends of Norse Mythology.
And that’s as much of the plot as I’m going to discuss because to go further would take this review from being mildly spoilery to MAJOR spoilery! It’s a shame, really, because there are so many wonderful things about this film that I’d LOVE to discuss in depth! From the powerful score by relatively unknown Norwegian composer, Marcus Paus to the incredible practical and visual effects on display, in particular, a spectacular lightning storm created and controlled by our troubled hero, Mortal satisfied my love for all things mythological! Whether it’s the ‘modern’ superhero or the ‘superheroes’ of ancient legends, Mortal addresses what it would REALLY be like for someone with godlike powers to one day just appear, much in the same way Josh Trank’s outstanding Chronicle addressed it. How would the world really react and what would it do for the world’s many different forms of religion? Would we cease to worship deities we are told to have faith in but have never seen in favor of worshiping what we can actually witness? What wars would be caused if someone like Eric actually existed and what would we do if such an individual were evil? Then again, isn’t good and evil really just a matter of perspective?
Overall, I found much to enjoy while watching Mortal! Keep in mind, and you’ll understand when you watch it, that Mortal is intended to be the first of a three-part story. I thoroughly enjoyed Ovredal’s Trollhunter (2010), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) and after my experience watching Mortal, I sincerely pray to whatever deity that might be out there listening that he’s able to continue the story of Eric in Mortal 2!