What’s the first movie you think of when the Roman Empire comes to mind? Was it Gladiator? With its compelling storyline, brutal battles and scantily clad women, it’s hard for it not to be. Well, there is no resemblance to that in Neil Marshall’s foray into this subject and time period. Centurion is a basic cat chases mouse flick with a less than intriguing plot and even less than impressive acting. It does, however, employ Olga Kurylenko in a starring role and displays some mildly entertaining hacking and slashing.
Neither of those elements are enough to overshadow the prior shortcomings.
Centurion, tells the tale of the fabled Roman Ninth Legion — a legion 4000 strong that inexplicable disappeared during a campaign in Scotland. Under most circumstances, a premise like this gives the utmost freedom to employ creative liberties. An army of undead feasts on the legions’ brains, perhaps? Maybe a viral outbreak imbues mass hysteria in the legion causing them to turn on themselves? I could have gone for either as Neil Marshall, known for his scary-as-hell The Descent, both wrote and directed this. Instead, he plays it cool and keeps the film as realistic and close to historically accurate as he can. He also makes the film relatively boring.
The Legion is killed in, an obvious to anyone with a brain, surprise attack by the Picts (don’t get bitchy, it really isn’t a spoiler). The battle which lasts all of two minutes results in the there being seven survivors — Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender ), Brick (Liam Cunningham), Bothos (David Morrissey), Macros (Noel Clarke), Leonidas (Dimitri Leonidas), Tarak (Riz Ahmed)and Thax (J.J. Feild). They’re first goal is to save their fearless general Titus Virilus (Dominic West) but, when thwarted, decide to turn tail and run back to the homeland many days away across rugged terrain.
And so the Picts, led by a heavily make-upped and mute warrior/tracker named Etain (Olga Kurylenko), give chase (an acting paycheck doesn’t get any easy than her part). Between agonizingly mundane banter (who knew the word “fuck” existed and was used so often in the 2nd century) between the hunted men as they make their way across a very picturesque Scottish landscape, there is an occasional break for action. A limb hacked off here, an arrow through the eye there — it’s all very comical and very bloody. Without it, however, one would go mad due to the lack of anything, anything at all, happening.
It all ends rather squeaky-cleanish and with the obvious climatic outcome (which makes one wonder, “Weren’t there supposed to be no survivors?”). Marshall probably should have veered away from the obvious and forced parallels to the Iraq War too. Seems, Roman senators are just as, if not more, corrupt than those in America. At least Centurion taught us that political and historical-like action movies aren’t Marshall’s forte. Maybe it’ll be enough to keep him focused on doing what he is mostly good at, i.e., horror movies.