Hollywood doesn't really take the family adventure film seriously anymore. Sure, the studio system churns out big entries in the genre every year or two, but they've all become silly. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Land of the Lost, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the Spy Kids franchise-- if you're a young kid, these movies are fine because they're basically live-action cartoons. If you want something a bit more serious, they do not deliver.
Ragnarok does, and the result is the best family adventure film in a long time.
Hailing from Norway, Ragnarok is about a father struggling to raise his teenage daughter and young son after the death of his wife. He's an archeologist and the recent discovery of an ancient Viking ship was supposed to be a big turning point in his career, but the museum funding his research kills his project after he presents to them a rather convoluted theory that the ship contained a code that holds the truth to Ragnarok, the old Norse myth about the end of the world.
That same night, however, the father's research assistant returns from an exploration of the Norwegian coastline with a piece of stone that works like a decoder ring. They break back into the museum and use it to discover that the ship contained hidden directions to a remote island. So naturally the father decides to turn his kids' summer vacation into his own private expedition to prove his theories right. The three of them meet up with two research assistants and a guide and go off in search of whatever secrets this island contains, and it sets off an intense, unforgettable adventure that involves dead Vikings, caves, abandoned Soviet-era bunkers, and something with big, big teeth.
The story is certainly unique, and the Viking mythos alone gives us a whole set of lore we don't really see in Hollywood movies, but what makes Ragnarok work so well is the fact that director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose takes everything so seriously. There's nothing cartoony about this family adventure. The kids are put in legitimate danger, and the adults certainly don't fare any better. And when the creature at the heart of the film starts making its presence known, you'll be in awe of how blockbuster worthy the spectacle becomes.
Ragnarok is the kind of movie that understands kids can handle material that's a bit darker. It's not a mean-spirited film or a horrific one, it's just more in the vein of E.T. and The Goonies and The Host thanks to its blend of grown-up issues with a grown-up script that just happens to have some kids at its heart. It's a complete 180 from the likes of Hollywood family adventure movies, and if that sounds appealing to you, do keep an eye out for it when Magnolia Pictures releases it in the U.S. in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
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