Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Against the Ice’: Arctic Adventure Found Wanting

BY Joe Bendel TIMEMarch 1, 2022 PRINT

Ejnar Mikkelsen was like the Ernest Shackleton of Denmark. He was celebrated throughout the Scandinavian nation for exploring and mapping Greenland. It was a matter of Danish national interest, to preserve their hegemony over Greenland, to debunk potential American claims. Of course, explorers often died while on expeditions, as was the case with Shackleton (sort of). Mikkelsen and his Icelandic companion have good reason to worry that they too could come to a cold, premature end in Peter Flinth’s “Against the Ice.”

To keep Greenland undivided, Denmark must prove it is one continuous land mass. Logically, that survey task has fallen to Mikkelsen. He was making progress in 1909 until his expedition partner’s mishap and subsequent frostbite forced them to return to the ship. An explorer like Mikkelsen cannot wait to get back on the ice, but he needs a volunteer from the shipbound crew to accompany him. Only Iver Iversen, the Icelandic mechanic, steps forward, because he is dazzled by Mikkelsen’s celebrity.

They are in for a desperate and prolonged struggle to survive the harsh freezing weather, hunger, and the wild animals, most notably the polar bear. It is worth noting that they are the only creature considered to be above mankind in the food chain, because they like eating people (at least according to “Picture of his Life,” the documentary profile of nature photographer Amos Nachoum).

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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Mikkelsen and Joe Cole as Iver Iversen in “Against the Ice.” (Netflix)

Exploration Adventure

Essentially, “Against the Ice” is an old-fashioned extreme-nature adventure. Thanks to Mikkelsen’s relentless drive and Iversen’s inexperience, just about everything that could go wrong will go wrong. However, there are no villains in the film, just animals acting according to their nature—and perhaps the occasional episode of temporary psychosis triggered by hunger and isolation.

Flinth takes an earnest but conventional approach to the material. The fight-for-survival action sequences are energetic but never truly breathtaking. Likewise, the period costumes and set trappings for the scenes set in Denmark look nice, but it is hardly an immersive viewing experience.

On the other hand, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does some of his best work yet as Mikkelsen. It is a gritty performance that acutely conveys how easily determination hardens into obsession over time. Joe Cole also takes Iverson on a pretty compelling emotional journey through states of awe, panic, and exhaustion. Fortunately, they both have a great deal of screen presence, because they largely have to carry the film, as the only two people on-screen for extended periods of time. However, Coster-Waldau’s fellow “Games of Thrones” cast-mate Charles Dance adds his usual steely arrogance as Neergaard, an opportunistic politician. (As one might expect from the historical and dramatic contexts, bears and sled dogs get more screen-time in “Against the Ice” than women.)

Visual Effects Wanting

The Arctic tundra looks great throughout the film, but some of the visual effects are a bit iffy, particularly those involving the ferocious polar bear attack. Mikkelsen’s episodes of temporary madness and hallucinations are also a bit awkward. They briefly hint the film will venture out into serious genre territory, in the tradition of “The Lighthouse” (starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe), but Flinth always quickly brings the drama crashing back down to earth.

Flinth definitely captures grueling physical demands of Mikkelsen’s adventure, but the screenplay, adapted from the explorer’s book by Coster-Waldau and Joe Derrick, never elevates the material beyond an above average wilderness survival tale. Perhaps Coster-Waldau and company were too intimidated by Mikkelsen’s status as a national hero to develop more of an edge for the film.

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Theatrical poster for “Against the Ice.” (Netflix)

Ironically, after all of Mikkelsen’s efforts to solidify Denmark’s hold over Greenland, the provisional free Danish government in exile during the World War II occupation granted the American military rights to maintain in perpetuity what became Thule Air Force Base. Nevertheless, Mikkelsen remains a national hero. Flinth certainly inspires respect for all the punishing hardships and trials he and Iversen endured. Sturdily solid (but not extraordinary by any measure), “Against the Ice” starts streaming on March 2 on Netflix.

‘Against the Ice’
Directors: Peter Flinth
Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole, Charles Dance
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Release Date: March 2, 2022
Rating: 3 out of 5

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit
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