By James Topley, The China Post
June 25, 2010, 2:56 pm TWN
Neil Marshall, director of the apocalyptically disparaging "Doomsday," returns to tales of death and destruction in "Centurion," an epic tale that contains vague whispers of Gladiator-esque warriors with the make-up and effects borrowed from "300." It's a lot less substance than style here in this ambitious attempt of grandeur from Warner Bros. Studios that was filmed on a relatively shoe-string budget.
Michael Fassbender brings familiarity to the movie, his previous casting in "300" means in the audiences' mind he fits easily into the role. Olga Kurylenko who's instantly recognizable as a Bond girl takes a little attention away from the blood and gore, while "The Wire" star Dominic West is hugely charismatic and becoming ever more popular.
But the issue here is with Neil Marshall, whose celebrity status as the next up-and-coming director — with offerings of "Dog Soldiers and The Descent" hinting at the awesome carnage he is capable of — is only surpassed with his infamously dreadful "Doomsday," a titanic sinker. So returning yet again to a bloodbath feature, has Marshall redeemed his credentials or does "Centurion" wither from the mind like a moment of violence you wish to forget?
This time he's turned his attention to a legion of Roman soldiers from 117 A.D. in Scotland traipsing through forest and glen to reach the English border. They are intercepted by the guerilla Picts (headed by Kurylenko) who wreak havoc on their ranks. Wearied and bloodied from earlier battle, these soldiers of Rome are slaughtered and it's up to General Virilus (West) with the help of Quintius Dias (Fassbender) to lead the way for the few remaining survivors.
In typical Marshall fashion, who never shies from a violent scene, there's a surplus of blood right from the off, and some of the violent acts are truly savage, such as smashing a head against the base of a tree and the frequent decapitations in the grand battle that commences with the film's start. This feature is totally for audiences who relish in the bloodbath of cinema as the script is neither outstanding nor as driven as it could have been. With "Gladiator," the story was as fascinating as the action, whereas here, the action is the only thing to look forward to. However, credit is due to Marshall and his production team for the high quality style that doesn't feel cheap or undermined by the much pricier blockbusters with their fanciful special effects; although digital blood still looks like digital blood.
All in, it's just another soulless movie. Bloody yes, it succeeds in showing the cruelty of ancient civilizations yet it fails to win over the audience. We feel sorrier for the guerillas whose small numbers and primitive weapons can somehow outmatch these hardened Roman warriors, not to mention the abuses the locals have suffered at the hands of their invaders.
Fans of the action-adventure genre will possibly enjoy this grim feature, but for those who thrive on the details of the story instead of the brain matter on the hilt of the sword, this maybe a little overbearing.
'Centurion' (世紀戰魂) ► Directed by Neil Marshall / With Michael Fassbender, Noel Clarke, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko / Action, Adventure / USA / 2010 / ★★★☆☆ / English with Chinese subtitles / Now Showing /