The golden child of British adventure filmmaking, writer/director Neil Marshall, as he ventured into project with bigger and better budgets, Centurion was meant to be the film to really kick his Hollywood ambitions into gear, but in the end, his £10m story set in the heroic ancient war falls uncomfortably between indie and mainstream, and pays the price.
After escaping from a hellish Pict camp, Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Fassbender) joins the legendary Ninth Legion, renowned for their togetherness and fighting spirit, as he continues to take the fights to their powerful adversaries. However, when the group are attacked in an ambush by the Picts, commander General Virilus (West) is captured, leaving the group splintered, forced to fight a new fight, not only for their lives but keep up the hope they can rescue their lost leader.
In an attempt to infuse Centurion with excitement and vigour, the plot picks a path fairly early on and follows it to the end. There’s no depth to the film, no sub-plots, no side interest, and it leaves Centurion feeling wholly linear, and devout real emotion.
Had Marshall crafted a rip-roaring adventure, filled with energy and excitement, then he would have been excused, a characteristic that saved his last film, Doomsday, but here the pacing is uneven and stutters from scene to scene with nothing keeping it ticking along between set-pieces.
In the central role, however, Michael Fassbender is excellent, and almost single handedly will keep your eyes on screen for the bulky feeling 97-minute running time. Fassbender embodies the passion and drive of the ancient, 117 AD era, equally at home in the actions sequences as in the brief moments of dialogue. Olga Kurylenko, though, is not quite as successful.
Playing a mute Pict warrior, masterful at tracking and a match for any Roman with in battle, the role doesn’t really work. Not all of the blame should be laid at the Bond actress’ feet, it’s written in the tired freakish/revenge ridden vein and only grows boring in time, but she has a vacuous and mindless quality that makes the character Etain feel anything but fearsome, unrelenting villain Marshall intended.
Certainly, Centurion is not all bad; some of the action is well choreographed and the set design and location work is fantastic, but without any real character development, by the time the closing credits draw in, you won’t care less about any of the characters, which for a film with a plot so linear, is a fatal flaw.