Directed by Neil Marshall. Starring Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Noel Clarke and Liam Cunningham. General release, 15a, 97 minutes
FRIENDS, ROMANS, countrymen, brace thyselves for the manliest film of the season. Aye, for Centurionis not only armed with Romans fighting Picts, but also with some of the manliest dialogue this side of WWF. “Her soul is an empty vessel,” one soldier says of the villainess, “and only Roman blood can fill it.”
The first manly man we meet is Quintus Dias (Fassbender), a Roman stationed in northern Britain in the second century and promptly taken captive by Picts. He eventually escapes and finds solace with the Ninth Legion. Led by the volatile, but magnificently named Virilus (Dominic West), Quintus joins the soldiers and their mute Pict tracker Etain (Kurylenko) in a campaign.
To the surprise of her employers, but not the audience, Etain betrays the Romans and an army of Picts slaughters most of the legion, taking Virilus hostage and leaving Quintus to lead the handful of survivors. Pursued by Etain, Quintus and co are hunted through the harsh landscape.
In the decade or so since Gladiatorunleashed hell, we’re still waiting for an equally stirring swords and sandals film. While Centurionlacks the panache of Ridley Scott’s epic, it’s certainly more fun than, say, Kingdom of Heavenor Alexander. Indeed, as directed by Neil Marshall ( The Descent), Centurionwould have more in common with action movies such as Predator or Behind Enemy Lines. The limb-lopping fight scenes, meanwhile, echo Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Despite its classy cast, little is expected of the actors beyond a strong presence, and as demonstrated in Hungerand Inglourious Basterds, Fassbender has that in spades. He’s believable as a warrior you’d follow into battle, though he’s also saddled with a terribly superfluous voiceover. Bereft of a meaty plot, Centuriondoesn’t deliver much historical drama or intrigue, but provides muddy, bloody action scenes and a simple, effective narrative.