It's AD 117 and the Roman Empire controls most of the known world, an empire that stretches from Egypt to Northern Britain; it's here however that the advance has come unstuck as the Romans have come up against the Picts, a Celtic warrior race that won't engage the enemy in open battle but prefer to 'pick away at the scab' with guerrilla tactics. The 9th Legion under General Virilus (West) has orders to search-and-destroy but his troops are ambushed by another typical raid, leaving behind a small group of warriors headed up by the noble Quintas Dias (Fassbender). Deep in enemy territory, Dias and his band struggle to make it back to their fort before they are picked off one-by-one.
Director Neil Marshall takes his cue from Scott's Gladiator and Gibson's Braveheart, but ups the violence in this grubby road movie. Marshal refuses to let a moment go by without some unfortunate being impaled or stabbed or having a limb dismembered, pushing the 15A cert as far as he can. It's a whoop-along 'Oooooh, did you see that?' level of violence. That might be fun, but with his eye on the body count, Marshall forgets one important facet - heart.
Despite Fassbender making the most of what he can with Dias, Centurion lacks a real hero, someone to get behind and relate to. The audience isn't allowed to get to know these men as people - Dias isn't exactly Maximus or William Wallace. It's only by the halfway mark that Dias comes to the fore but he's somewhat lost in the constant running and fighting. A much-needed respite from the gore brings a much-needed love interest in Arianne (Imogen Poots), a Pict outcast who helps Dias' beleaguered soldiers. It's only here that the film's heart emerges but it's a case of too little, too late. It's odd too that the British Marshall would side with the invading Romans, while demonising the Picts who are trying to protect their homes and families.
Centurion continues Marshall's championing of strong women that he explored in The Descent and the Mad Maxine romp that was Doomsday - Arianne can take care of herself while the villain of the piece is the moody Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a dangerous tracker hell-bent on revenge. If the men in Centurion were as memorable as the women, who don't have enough screen time to make the film theirs, this could have been something great.
Story by Gavin Burke | 09:00 | Saturday 21st August 2010 | DVD review
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