Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Centurion

In deciding whether to watch Centurion, ask yourself the following:

  • Am I an ancient history/Rome geek, but not an expert?
  • Does over-the-top blood and dismemberment satisfy me as much as strong plot and character development?
  • Do I have an unreasonable crush on Olga Kurylenko and/or Michael Fassbender?

If you answered "yes" to ALL of those questions, then you probably won't find Centurion to be a waste of time. For me, only the first criterion applied.

It's not that the movie's short on style, or budget, or kick-ass kills. It's that, beyond these strengths, there's basically nothing. The story is simplistic, often meandering, and thoroughly predictable; the characters are only barely better defined than in a slasher horror flick; and the overall weak dialogue is sadly less embarrassing than the pointless narration. (You always hear about pointless narration—critics love to point out when it should've been dropped entirely. This movie's practically a case study in the phenomenon.)

The story involves the Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire, who as we join them are in Britain, losing a war with the Picts. Fassbender plays Quintus Dias, a soldier who gets himself into one hopeless situation after another in a land full of hopeless situations if you're a Roman. Dominic West also has a significant role as the rough but inspiring general. Kurylenko is a druidy Pict huntress who had her tongue cut out, and yes, of course they show the stump. (Is stump the right word here? Stub? Nub?)

The story unfolds more or less as a big chase, occasionally exciting but more often plodding. I was distracted enough that I started actively looking for subtext, but found pretty much none. I don't demand that all action movies, even those set in more-or-less historical circumstances, be "about something," but it's Rome ferchrissakes—what ancient civilization is richer with potential for thematic resonance? Maybe they were afraid of offending American viewers by emphasizing the whole late-empire-caught-in-unwinnable-quagmire angle.

So instead we get mindless action and thin characterization. One begins to suspect that the filmmakers thought Kurylenko's mysterious glares, Fassbender's lower teeth, and gratuitous blood-spurting could carry a movie. By the time action-movie attrition had worn Fassbender's party down to three, I ran out of patience, and kept watching only out of faint hope that Quintus would get back home so we'd get to enjoy some Gladiator-esque Ancient Rome CG.

Without giving away the ending entirely, I should say that not only was I disappointed with the resolution, but the sequel tease at the very end was lame lame lame LAAAAME lame. It depleted what little of my goodwill was left, and I'm sorely tempted to deduct half a star for their audacity in suggesting a sequel might or should happen.

The occasionally impressive fight scenes and the watchable (though wasted) cast are the only reason Centurion gets 2 stars. If I was willing to set a dangerous precedent I'd go with 1.75 stars instead. (Actually, make that 1.8—if we're going to divide stars, we should really be dividing them into fifths. I guess what I'm saying is, I never liked this kind of numerical scoring system all that much.)

Star Score: 2 out of 5

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