Last fall, Neil Marshall’s Centurion depicted, with the aid of roughly 30 gallons of arterial spray, Rome’s doomed Ninth Legion, who confidently marched into northern England and were gorily dispatched with by its pitiless tribes. The opening crawl of The Eagle is almost verbatim that of Centurion, but rather than be rewarded with Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Archie Hickox fucking up (and being fucked up by) savages, audiences receive Duke from G.I. Joe and Billy Elliot on a PG-13-rated quest for (wait for it) a golden emblem. Seriously: an emblem.
His scant hair coated in what appears to be the world’s earliest prototype of gel, Channing Tatum plays the son of a perished Ninth Legion commander seeking to restore honor to the family name and to his tainted empire. Aided by a vindictive British slave (Jamie Bell), whom he earlier whimsically saved from a gladiator’s sword, he journeys into the dangerous sealed-off nether-regions in pursuit of the aforementioned nationalist symbol.
If it can boast nothing else, The Eagle at least has the distinction of being one of the very few films to take a basically pro-Roman Empire stance. Traditionally the debased bad guy, it’s depicted here as slightly misguided but basically decent, with Tatum’s stolid fighter—who, like all Roman characters, speaks with a suspicious Yank accent—a florid patriot who winds up reigniting pride in the Ninth Legion survivors his quest turns up.
This fervent nationalism might be perturbing if The Eagle wasn’t an utter bore. Documentarian-turned-fictionalist (and not the Kid in the Hall) Kevin MacDonald has been handed pure pulp—the source is the ’50s adventure tome The Eagle of the Ninth—yet he’s treated it in the same pseudo-serious manner as his The Last King of Scotland. Unfortunately, Tatum is no Forest Whitaker. More so than usual, he’s a slab of meat, and so unresponsive that the intensely talented Bell, who previously jazzed up the even shittier Jumper, never even bothers forging chemistry. What’s left is murky lighting, inscrutable shaky-cam battle scenes and a muddled treatise on tolerance. The Eagle may not officially be a sequel to Centurion, but it certainly fits the sequel stereotype.