The Roman Empire is a fascinating subject that has been covered countless times in film, however one aspect of the empire that has been largely ignored is the expansion into and eventual downfall of the empire's hold in Britain. In the last decade or so more films focusing on this aspect have come into play including 2004's King Arthur, 2007's The Last Legion and now director Neil Marshall's Centurion. Unlike King Arthur and The Last Legion though, Centurion does not try and give a retelling of the King Arthur legend, instead it attempts to give a visceral account regarding the decimation of the fabled 9 Legion.
Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) survives a brutal attack by the Picts and makes his way to the legendary Ninth Legion, who then set out to eradicate the Picts once and for all. Unfortunately the Picts ambush the Ninth and decimate them, capturing their leader General Titus Virilus (Dominic West) and leaving a small band of legionnaires including Dias to escape back to Roman fortifications. Dias and his small band play a cat and mouse game with the pursuing Pict battalion led by Etain (Olga Kurylenko).
Marshall's films all have one thing in common, that being he knows how to make realistic looking action scenes. Centurion is no different, featuring some excellent and explicitly gory action sequences depicted on film. Unfortunately Centurion doesn't have much else going for it.
The acting is serviceable, although nothing to write home about. The action scenes despite having excellent craft behind them are devoid of any tension. In fact the whole film is devoid of any tension. The ending is really never in doubt aside and aside from one small side step over the last third of the film it stays on script for the typical chase film it is. Some of this would actually be passable if the film as a whole wasn't mind numbingly boring. It is rare that a movie of this type had me completely disengaged but Centurion managed to actually make my eyelids heavy.
When Centurion is combined with Marshall's last film, Doomsday, it indicates something of a downward slope for a director I once thought had immense upside. He still has the skills needed to create excellent films but he needs find his writing touch again and get back to the basics of telling a good solid tale with strong tense moments.