Friday, December 17, 2010

So...that was Centurion

I'm going to preface this by telling you that I like Neil Marshall's movies. Dog Soldiers? Awesome. The Descent? Amazing. Doomsday? So much fun. So, going into the movie, good or not, I expected to like it.

It's also worth noting that I have more than a fleeting interest in Roman history. The Romans were, in a word, fascinating. Their history is littered with names and events that are recognizable to grade school kids; the wares with Carthage and Hannibal coming over the Alps, the rise of Julius Caesar and his assassination.Their history is full of heroes and villains that you wouldn't need to make anything up to keep an audience enthralled for a couple of hours.

Centurion is an almost entirely made up story. Things in the movie that are true: Titus Flavius Virilus actually existed and the 9th Legion was an actual legion that kind of sort of disappeared around 117 AD. Things in the movie that are made up: Pretty much everything else.

The movie starts in a Roman outpost. The outpost is attacked one night by Rome's enemy in what is today called Scotland, the Picts. The attacking Picts utterly annihilate the Roman troops in the outpost. One man, who happens to speak Pictish is taken prisoner. This man is Quintus Dias, the titular centurion.

The Roman response is to send in the 9th Legion. This is essentially the second century version of Shock and Awe. The assumption is that if they send in a full legion, the Picts will be put down forever.

Meanwhile, the Picts torture Quintus, hoping to get some idea of Rome's plans. Quintas, however, manages to escape his prison. He is found in the woods by the 9th Legion, which he promptly becomes a part of. After a brief stop, the 9th marches on only to be ambushed and decimated in the woods. And when I say decimated, I mean it. A legion could have 1000 soldiers in it! At the end of the battle, there are only 6 survivors among the soldier and the general of the legion, who has been taken prisoner by the Picts.

Quintus takes command of the 'legion' and leads them to try to rescue their general. However, in the process, they kill the Pictish king's son. This, naturally does not please the Pictish king. He sets their tracker, Etain, to hunt the soldiers down and kill them.

Now, I haven't mentioned Etain yet. So, let me tell you about her. Actually, wait a minute. Before I tell you about her, let's use an idea that I had almost two months ago. Consider this a warning:

Get it? Spoiler alert!

Etain is the tracker that the 9th Legion was given to lead them to the Picts to defeat them. However, she betrayed the Romans and led them into the ambush. She is the ultimate hunter and she HATES the Romans. See, when she was younger, the Romans attacked her village. They murdered her father, they raped her mother and they made her watch. Then, they raped her. Finally, they cut out her tongue. So, her hatred is understandable. It, however, does not change that she is the villain in this story.

Ultimately, Centurion is a chase movie. Quintus must try to lead his remaining troops home with Etain and the Picts trying to kill them. It's bloody, gory and very over the top. That's okay though. That's what you expect from a Neil Marshall film. If you pick this up off the shelf expecting an accurate historical drama, you'd be sadly mistaken.

There are problems with this movie. The characters are all paper thin. You understand Etain's motivations, but most of the characters just aren't very fleshed out. In fact, characters like Vortix and Aeron are not just undeveloped, but barely used. The actors themselves do a fine job with what little character they've been given to work with. Dominic West, Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko are all fantastic in their roles and 28 Weeks Later's Imogen Poots was a nice addition to the cast.

Yes, it's a weak plot and has weaker characters, but that's not what you watch Neil Marshall's movies for. Frankly, it's a fun movie. It's entertaining. That has to count for something. Objectively, I would say it's not a very good movie, but subjectively it's pretty cool. I know I'll want to sit down and watch it again. Not to look for things I missed, or to look at it any differently, but to be entertained and enjoy watching a fun movie.

PS: If you're interested in learning more about Roman history, and you like podcasts, I cannot recommend The History of Rome podcast enough. Mike Duncan does an amazing job of putting together an excellent show each week.