In a word, Neil Marshall’s “Centurion” is epic. In several words, it’s a big rip-off of several superior epics. If you liked “300,” the running parts of “The Two Towers” and HBO’s “Rome” series, you still may not like “Centurion,” but you will definitely recognize the elements that went into creating it.
I’m seriously done with movies that start mid-narrative and then flash back; it’s never used with purpose anymore. When we meet our protagonist, Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), he is stumbling half naked through the snow. He tells us that this isn’t the beginning or end of his story. And then we flash back to two weeks earlier. We know we will come back to this point. But it’s by no means the most exciting thing that will happen in the movie. It’s not the climax. We meet him in this moment JUST so we can see the title “Two Weeks Earlier.” Screenwriters take note: This device is played out. You know what else is played out? Much of “Centurion.”
We learn a lot about the situation through voiceover. So much voiceover. Quintus is a Centurion of the Roman army. He tells us about the enemies, the feral tribe of Picts, who resemble extras from “Battlefield Earth.” After fighting his way out of an enemy village, he must lead the handful of survivors of the Ninth Legion out of enemy territory. They are hunted all the while by a team of Picts, led by America’s Next Top Model, a mute tracker named Etain (Olga Kurylenko). This is all you really need to know. The rest of the voiceover is entirely unnecessary but it’s present throughout the film as if we’re watching a book on tape.
At the risk of spoiling several of his films, I have to talk about the way Neil Marshall writes women. I wouldn’t necessarily accuse Neil Marshall of hating women, but he definitely seems to distrust them. At best, he portrays them as frail lap dogs. The nicest female character in “Centurion” is a “wench” who spends much of her screen time worrying with trembling lips. Maybe after making “The Descent,” a film with an all-female cast, he felt the need to write the manliest movie possible. And it might have worked if he’d had an original idea for the plot or if he’d spent just a little more time revising the dialog instead of just making a montage of manly things.
“Centurion” is rife with testosterone. Among the numerous masculine elements in the film: Arm wresting competitions, bar brawls, battle cries, loudly declaring oneself to be a soldier of such and such, spitting, punching, bleeding, men talking with their mouths full, and men walking away in slow motion from stuff that’s on fire. That’s not to say that a woman wouldn’t enjoy the film. They might, if they like soulless genre rip-offs that read like they were written by an eleven-year-old. It is essentially the anti-Sex-And-The-City. But it’s just as bad.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that very little happens. There’s a lot of a fighting people who are constantly betraying each other. But “Centurion” is mostly running. So much running. If you drank (an alcoholic beverage, one assumes) every time a character was running, you would be drunk off your face before the first betrayal. I kept waiting for a surprise monster to spice things up but it never came.
The good news is that the violence is pretty entertaining. Heads fall left and right. Blood splatters pretty much everywhere. You won’t believe how many parts of the human body can be awesomely pierced by arrows. You won’t be bored watching “Centurion”. But it’s not going to change your life either.