Neil Marshall won a lot of favor with The Descent, and quickly lost it all with the ridiculous Doomsday. This made his next, and fourth film somewhat important. He could be relegated to the likes of Shyamalan, or he could rebound like Danny Boyle after he churned out flops like A Life Less Ordinary. Which path did he choose with Centurion, which both wrote and directed? Well it seems I forgot a third option: following up a turd with a mostly mediocre film, backed up by a solid effort, like Michel Gondry when he went from Eternal Sunshine, to The Science of Sleep, to Be Kind Rewind.
Centurion‘s cast has much to boast. Michael Fassbender plays the lead, a Roman soldierr named Quintus Dias. As a soldier of Rome, he’s attempting to conquer the lands to the north of the empire (in what is now Scotland) from a feral and brutal people called Picts, when his battalion is destroyed. He escapes and is rescued by another group of Romans, led by General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), who is leading his own campaign against the savages. They are led by mute Pict who has supernatural tracking skills, played by Olga Kurylenko. Flavius’s 3,000 men are all but killed, and eight of them, including Quintus are left hundreds of miles behind enemy line and spent the rest of the film trying to return home safely.
Marshall spends no time at all getting to the much buzzed about gore. Any sort of medieval, brutal violence you can think of, Marshall found a way to fit it in. In fact, there is so much focus on getting to the blood, that when the film should have been focusing on developing his characters, he was figuring out how to get the biggest splatter pattern. Which is certainly a shame when you have someone as talented as Fassbender leading your cast.
It’s not all bad though. There are some fairly well choreographed fight scenes that keep the tension at an enjoyable level. Kurylenko, who was as entertaining as a wet blanket in Quantum of Solace, found her niche as a well talented actress, as long as she doesn’t speak. I found myself concerned about at least three of the final eight Romans, and they turned out to be the central in the plot, which was satisfying as the film winds down to a satisfying end, even if it is only on a superficial macho level.
Marshall couldn’t help but get political in a war film, even if it does take place in 117AD. Marshall warns, as if he is the only one who gets it, that invading a smaller local population could potentionally be dangerous, as the offense may not be prepared for new conditions, and new enemies. Yes, this part is boring, and it makes me wish he spent the thought he put into that message (and the violence), into making Centurion a bit better, a bit closer to the quality of The Descent. But he didn’t. So we’re left with this finished product that is just okay, when it could have been better. Sandal and sword fans will enjoy more than the rest of us.