Twenty years ago, the Ninth Legion marched north from Roman Britain into the wilds of Scotland. They disappeared, never to be seen again, and their standard disappeared with them. Humiliated by the loss of their golden eagle, Emperor Hadrian constructed his famous wall and pretty much abandoned the area north of said wall to the savages. That is, until hotshot young commander, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), comes along.
Of course, Aquila isn’t coming to the forsaken British Isles for a vacation. He’s got redemption on his mind. His father was the commander of the Ninth that disappeared, and now his son is coming back in an attempt to restore the family name somehow.
After proving his bravery in battle and getting an honorable discharge from the Legion, Aquila formulates a plan. He’ll take his slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), and head north across the wall to either find the eagle or die trying.
Will Aquila recover the eagle and restore his family’s honor? Will Esca stay true to his word and protect his erstwhile master, as his master once protected him from death in the gladiatorial arena? Will they run into any shirtless blue people carrying spears and looking for trouble? Did the elder Aquila die a hero or a coward? These are the questions at the heart of The Eagle, and odds are you can answer them without even really knowing anything about the movie.
If there’s one thing you can say for The Eagle, it’s that it’s a beautiful film. Not beautiful as in moving or deep, but beautiful as in lush and green and making incredible use of its natural surroundings.
Cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire), makes incredible use of the Scottish Highlands here. While the movie spends a significant portion of the middle with our two stars wandering around, at least they wander through some lovely landscape. There’s something to be said for a well shot movie, and this is one. It’s a movie that, like Channing Tatum, is pretty, but not very interesting.
Speaking of Tatum, he’s not bad as the ambitious young commander, Marcus Flavius Aquila. Granted, in his hands the role’s a bit more melodramatic than perhaps it was written to be, but he’s not terrible. Jamie Bell’s Esca is a more interesting role, as he’s torn between his urge to be free and his loyalty to his lifesaving master. All Marcus has is his desire to redeem his family name and recover the eagle, while Esca is much more conflicted. Donald Sutherland is a treat in his supporting role as Uncle Aquila, though his time on screen is limited.
The script teams Jeremy Brock, writer of The Last King Of Scotland, back up with the Oscar-winning director of that film, Kevin Macdonald. Unfortunately, the pair fail to recapture magic here.
It’s not that either is bad. Macdonald is a skilled director and Brock’s not a bad writer, but this movie never quite gels together. The first 30 minutes or so are very good, but the 90 minutes after that are predictable. The arc the characters undertake is pretty straightforward, as it follows the ‘unlikely partners who become friends under fire’ template, and Macdonald doesn’t have enough tricks up his sleeve to add surprises to the proceedings. There’s no real suspense, but it’s competent as far as thrillers go.
I’ve seen a lot worse films this year than The Eagle, but I’m not wowed by any one aspect of the film.
The fact that they used shaky cam for all the fight scenes didn’t increase my enjoyment, though I did like the fact that they used some of the Roman legion’s actual fighting formations during the opening battle scenes. Aside from that nod to Rome’s group fighting tactics, it was mostly your standard movie action scenes, except with swords instead of hand-to-hand combat.
If you like Roman Britain, or are a particular fan of either of the two stars of the film, then it’s probably worth renting. If you go in expecting very little, as I did, then The Eagle is probably going to be a pleasant experience. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s competent enough to smooth them out better than most films.
It’s not Gladiator, but it’s not The Last Legion either.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan kind of wants to go to Scotland, provided there are no blue-painted men with bone necklaces waiting to chase him around with spears. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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