Centurion Dir. Neil Marshall

[Magnet Releasing; 2010]

Styles: historical action
Others: The Descent, Doomsday

After bringing us soldiers trapped with werewolves (Dog Soldiers) and spelunkers trapped with mutants (The Descent), Neil Marshall’s decision to make a simple gladiator movie might seem like an aim for mainstream respectability. Sure, historians might quibble with his tale of Roman soldiers fighting an army of local tribesmen in Scotland, but it kinda sorta might have happened, right? Too bad this modicum of realism hinders one of Marshall’s most prized resources: his imagination.

Centurion stars Michael Fassbender (former Inglorious Basterd, future Magneto) as the sole survivor of a Pict attack on the northwestern edge of the Roman Empire. A search party discovers him, but the Picts return to slaughter these guys as well, taking their proud-chested leader (Dominic West) hostage. A failed attempt to rescue General McNulty results in the death of a Pict kiddie — and now the Scottish warriors are really pissed.

This easy-to-grasp, “bludgeon or be bludgeoned” plot is perfect for Marshall’s post-Sam Raimi sensibilities, and there’s no shortage of screaming, maiming and dismembering. The cast does “soulful macho” to a T, with West in particular relishing his man’s man role. But the film never subverts its familiar plot or achieves truly GIF-worthy mega-violence. Its most bravura creation, an Amazonian mute who double-crosses the Romans with sadistic relish, is identical to the Amazonian mute who rampaged through Marshall’s last film, the apocalyptic fantasy Doomsday. While never as insipid as 300, a little of that film’s grandeur might have raised the stakes. A gladiator epic, by hook or by crook, should at least be a little epic.

Most anyone who’d even consider seeing this movie will be entertained despite the obviousness. It’s good to hear Marshall’s planned World War II and Old West projects may be shelved so he can make Burst 3D, a Raimi production about a monster causing blizzard-bound victims to explode. This is one director who shouldn’t be bound to plausibility.

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