When you think of a sword and sandals epic about the Roman Empire, classics like Spartacus and Gladiator come to mind, led by their famous directors and stars and massive casts and budgets.
You don’t think of a few dozen men in swamplands led by Channing Tatum in leather armor.
In that sense, The Eagle is a strange film. It’s genre, cast and release date all don’t seem to go together, but they do produce a film that is watchable at best, forgettable at worst.
The year is 190 AD, and the Roman Empire is still conquering everywhere they can see on a hilltop. But in steamrolling across the entire world, they occasionally run into a speed bump or two, like some particularly savage tribes in parts of Britain who were fearsome far before William Wallace ever had the chance to organize them.
Guess a headshot is really the only option here.
One such outing to conquer that area resulted in disaster. A legion of 5,000 men were lost, along with a golden eagle standard, a precious symbol of Roman honor and power. It’s such a great disgrace, the legion commander’s son still wants to clear his family name decades later, and so new Centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) requests to be stationed in Northern Britain.
He immediately makes a splash by displaying both intelligence and bravery defending his outpost and men from hostile invaders, earning him their respect, but also a career-ending wound. Not satisfied with his newfound glory, he marches out into the void to find the eagle, accompanied by his Briton slave Esca (Jamie Bell).
The film veers dangerously into Avatar territory when Marcus is captured by Britons, who look and dress almost exactly like Na’vi (minus blue skin pigmentation and four feet of height). I was afraid he was going to start learning valuable lessons about their culture, but thankfully they stay the savage enemies, and there’s nary a lesson to be learned from them.
“Watch it man, this chiseled jaw is insured for $500K.”
Loyalty is a major focus of the film, and the bond between slave and master is the foundation for most of what unfolds. Marcus and Esca save each other’s lives time and again, and learn to trust each other despite their innate hatred for each other’s people. There was supposed to be a point during the film where they became friends, but I never quite got when that happened, as they went from throat slitting rage to BFFs rather suddenly from what I saw.
I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more of a mystery to the whole affair. The disappearance of 5,000 men and a shamed father seems like it could be a tale worth telling, but when answers finally do come, it’s all rather straightforward, and there’s nothing particularly revelatory that was worth sticking around for two hours.
I’ve always poked fun at Channing Tatum for not being able to go for two films without playing a soldier in one of them. At least he’s jumped back a few thousand years here, and this is one of his better roles. The film starts out strong with him being believable as an honor seeking, up and comer, but things just get bogged down after the halfway point, and the film unravels for reasons beyond his control. Jamie Bell does a fine job as well, but again he’s better than the script.
Who would have thought he’d spend more time with his shirt off than Channing Tatum?
It’s also annoying the film muzzled itself by a PG-13 rating. Bloodless swordfights are NEVER fun to watch, and choreography throughout the film is so damn boring you almost long for the battle scenes to be over once they start.
It’s a solid effort, but with a simple A to B plot and less than thrilling action sequences, there’s not much to see here. I will however, congratulate the film for not giving Tatum’s character a love interest, which I thought was somehow stipulated in his contract for any movie he signed on for. Glad to see he’s branching out, and I do hope this is a sign of him starting to pick better roles.
2 out of 5 stars