In 120 A.D. the Roman army’s Ninth Legion marched into Northern Britain (which was apparently left uninhabited) never to be seen again. In response, Emperor Hadrian built an expansive wall to cut off the north from the rest of his empire. Fast forward 20 years and in the Roman-occupied South, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), the son of the Ninth Legion commander, is a promising Centurion dead-set on restoring his family’s honor. Those dreams are dashed, however, when he’s injured during an enemy raid and handed an honorable discharge. With his path to fortune effectively blocked, the young warrior decides instead to travel to the ends of the world (really just beyond Hadrian’s Wall) to face his destiny. But because 5,000 troops had already been lost on such an expedition and rumors are rampant that “no Roman can survive north of the wall,” Marcus enlists the partnership of Esca (Jamie Bell), a Brit-turned-slave whom he saved from an untimely death at the hands of a hardened gladiator. Together they try to recover “The Eagle” — Rome’s national symbol that was lost during the Ninth Legion’s infamous misadventure.
Honor and nationalism are common themes in The Eagle, and they’re prevalent in both Marcus and Esca — two consequences of a virtue-based society whose perverse teachings say that it’s okay to slaughter enemies no matter if it’s in the battlefield or in mindless sport. (Coincidentally, Aquila saves Esca from a bloody death only before killing an enemy soldier, whom Esca spares for being a child). The eponymous crest for which they seek, being nothing more than a guiding light for violence and blind ethnocentricity, fuels them and the Roman troops to not have a problem butchering the native Northerners, who are fabled to “tear out hearts while their enemy is still alive” and “cut off their feet so that their souls can’t enter the afterlife.” This complete lack of compassion makes for protagonists that are hard to root for.
That notwithstanding, Tatum and Bell don’t make it any easier to like these brutes: The former being completely detached from the role, which in turn, hurts the latter, who is stuck playing a character alongside an actor inept of creating chemistry. With Macdonald’s equally disinterested direction and Jeremy Brock’s poor screenplay, the two pretty-boy leads were further bogged down by an unnatural dialogue which failed to conquer the interest of most of audience members that shared the theater with me.
Sympathetic characters are almost always a must in period pieces since, nine times out of ten, they oftentimes are a complete bore as they tend to be overlong and overdramatic (i.e., Robin Hood). Even the movies that get those aspects right tend to falter because they fail to deliver on the action-adventure that’s been promised. The Eagle falls into this category. Don’t get me wrong, it does feature nice Scottish scenery, authentic costume design, and some decent action scenes (despite them being kept tame in order to ensure a PG-13 rating), but the production exhibits little else. Not even Donald Sutherland’s likeable (albeit minor) performance as Uncle Aquila, the most affectionate of the characters, can save this rubbish.