Director Neil Marshall was once Hollywood’s next big thing. Dog Soldiers put his name out there and The Descent had people talking. After the release of The Descent, many hailed him as the wunderkind of British film. Moviegoers were excited to see where Marshall would go next and many were looking forward to another fresh and exciting take on the horror genre. Following The Descent, Marshall put out Doomsday in 2008.
The film didn’t preform well at the box office or critically and it took away some of the steam from Marshall’s rolling train. When news came that Marshall’s next film would be the historical action film Centurion, based on the legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion, people grew skeptical.
After a step in the wrong direction, we were left wondering if Marshall could fix his mistakes and get back on the path of his once very promising career. Is Centurion the film that we’ve been waiting for since The Descent? Or is it just another reason for us to believe that we jumped the gun on Neil Marshall and his once promising career?
In what feels like Gladiator mixed with Conan and Lord of the Rings, Marshall takes us back to the year AD 117. The Roman Empire is in power and their reach spreads from Egypt to Spain. Upon entering Scotland, the Empire seems to be faced with a new enemy. A relentless and savage tribe known as the Picts are proving to be a worthy opponent. The guerrilla tactics of the enemy have made it tough for the Romans to continue their conquest and so it has come to a halt.
Fed up with the constant opposition from the Picts, Rome sends in their toughest legion, the Ninth. Eager to wipe out the Picts once and for all, the Ninth set off on their quest but are met with shock when a surprise attack by the Picts wipes out almost the entire legion. Leaving only a few survivors, Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) leads the group of soldiers as they battle their way back to the safety of the Roman army while constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the Picts.
Boasting some gorgeous shots of the Scottish landscape (photographed wonderfully by cinematographer Sam McCurdy), Centurion turns the cold, harsh and desolate land into its own character. Marshall, clearly familiar with Scotland, creates an antagonist out of the land and it proves to be as big of an obstacle to the Romans as the Picts themselves.
The crowded forests and snow covered mountains are every bit as deterring to the Romans as the Picts are. Beautiful yet menacing, McCurdy turns Caledonia into an eerie yet breathtaking landscape and it makes for a great setting for the narrative. The sweeping scenery also makes the film look like it was a lot more expensive than it really was.
Drawing clearly from films like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Zack Snyder’s 300, it’s easy to see that Marshall is heavily influenced by some of the best in the business. The battle scene plays out like an eruption of carnage.
Blood and violence are found here in great abundance. Decapitations, arrows through the neck, limbs severed and heads being crushed, are just some examples of what you’ll be treated to in this ultra violent film. Relentless in its portrayal of violence, the battles here are vicious. Aside from some sub-par CG effects, the battles are all pretty amazing and are easily one of the highlights of this film. Marshall, who isn’t exactly a stranger to blood and gore, is clearly loving every minute of it as he revels in the crimson tide that is splashing onto the screen.
Rising star Michael Fassbender gives an incredible performance as Centurion Quintus Dias. He makes you care for his character almost instantly and although Hunger gave him more to work with, he does a great job with the material he has here. Also nice to see on screen is Dominic West aka Jimmy McNulty from HBO’s The Wire. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him on the big screen and he does some good work here. In fact, almost everyone in the cast delivers strong performances. There really aren’t any weak links.
Where the film starts to falter isn’t in the performances, it falters in the character development category. Marshall, who clearly has a passion for action focuses so much on the fighting and chasing that he totally forgets to tell us who these characters really are.
Aside from the obligatory camp fire scene where our soldiers each get a paragraph or two to tell their story, we never really know who these men are. It makes it hard to connect or even care about them. Even worse is Marshall’s lame attempt to introduce the token love interest. The character of Arianne was introduced way too late into the movie to even be remotely interesting and the film probably would have been better without her to be honest. She slows down the so far terrific pacing and all her scenes were boring and nothing more than a futile effort on Marshall’s part to add heart to his film.
Behind the camera Marshall paces the film fittingly and aside from the scenes with Arianne, none of the scenes feels too slow or unnecessary. Perhaps Marshall moves too fast though. He’s so focused on the action that plot details get left behind and some plot points end up being pretty vague and questionable.
Due to the somewhat messy plot and lack of character development, a lot of the suspense that we found in Marshall’s other films, most notably The Descent, is noticeably absent. Add in some dialogue that’s rather uninspired and an unnecessary amount of predictability and things start to fall apart. Perhaps with a bit more dramatic shaping, Centurion could have turned out to be a truly great film.
Ultimately what will draw you into Centurion is the thrill of the chase. The barbaric nature of the Picts makes the Romans quest to find a safe haven all the more dire. It’s an exciting game of cat and mouse but if the film had included just a bit more substance it could have turned out to be truly great. While there are better chase films out there, Centurion is still worth checking out.
Any movie that has you rooting for the side that raped and killed innocent women and children must be worth at least some attention, right? Despite the questionable role of the Romans being the film’s protagonist, Centurion is still worth your time. It’s an exciting and action packed film that on a pure entertainment level, doesn’t disappoint.
Centruion is an exciting and intense film with fantastic fight scenes and strong acting.