Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko
Runtime: 97 Mins
Review: Lev Harris
It seems that filmmakers are never afraid to tackle and (for want of a better word) copy exactly the same subject matter as another film made in the same year. Such is the case with Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle Of The Ninth, released later this year, in the wake of Centurion, Neil Marshall’s latest offering.
The history of the mysterious disappearance of the ninth legion is non-existent, thus handing Marshall complete artistic and creative control. The premise is simple: following a guerrilla ambush of an entire Roman battalion by the Picts, seven members of the ninth legion of Rome are trapped behind enemy lines with little hope of survival. They attempt to reach the English border before they are picked off by revenge-driven Etain and her band of warriors.
At first sight, this chase thriller couldn’t be further removed from Marshall’s previous movies, but on further inspection many similarities arise, albeit disguised in leather jockstraps and metal armor sculpted in the shape of the warriors’ torsos. The Descent features a similar band of outcasts, a group of women being chased by a higher power in a cave, as opposed to the Scottish highlands. As a result, a feeling of staleness abides while watching Centurion. A change of tack for Marshall is needed; getting someone else to pen the script might be a good start.
The film begins entertainingly enough with a battle in the woods akin to the beginning of Gladiator. The carefully crafted hand-to-hand set piece is visually satisfying, but soon it becomes obvious we are watching a collection of chase sequences that, whilst gritty and brutal, don’t live up to the excitement of the opening: the film loses its initial tempo and starts to sag. One only need watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to remember why Centurion comes off as distinctly average. Some scenes have been taken right out of Butch Cassidy, whose set-pieces resonate due to our emotional attachment to the anti-heroes. This is desperately missing from Centurion. There is a five minute getting-to-know-you campfire session between the remaining Roman soldiers, yet no sooner has this finished when half of them succumb to arrow shots to the back or spears through the mouth.
You are left with a feeling of indifference towards the deaths of the lazily-drawn secondary characters; even the backstory of antagonist Etain, a clear copy of Titus Andronicus’ Lavinia, is referred to only half-heartedly. Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender makes the most of his turn as the leader of the resistance, unfailingly dedicating himself, and bent on escaping back to the border, while also showing a side of vulnerability to his character.
It ends with a throwaway attempt at character development, as a predictable romantic sub-plot hurriedly gives way to then end credits, revealing nothing but uncertainty about how to end the story. Comparisons to 300 and Gladiator are inevitable, and while it surpasses the former, its formulaic nature means that it never reaches the heights of the latter.