Centurion comes to from writer-director Neil Marshall, who is someone who likes his movies to be bloody. After his previous three films, Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday, we’ve come to learn and expect this from him. Now comes Centurion, the first of his films not to begin with the letter “D”, (excluding definite articles, of course), where the blood is ramped up and is even more noticeable thanks to the limited palette of colours that it is splattered upon.
The story, and I use the term loosely, follows a small group of Roman soldiers, who, after being ambushed by the Picts, end up going on an adventure to avoid being killed themselves. Our lead is Michael Fassbender, playing someone named Dias. He survives a couple of times, more or less by chance, and therefore becomes the main character. There is also a mute girl, Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who had her tongue removed before the film starts. Her role is actually fairly central, and despite being mute, Kurylenko makes her character stand-out.
All of the other characters, apart from the two I mentioned, are indistinguishable from one another. During the combat scenes, I couldn’t tell who was who. I couldn’t even, for most of the time, determine if the person getting their head cut off or taking an arrow to the eye was a Roman or Pict, which makes all of the fight sequences lose purpose. There are times when these parts actually become boring, not because nothing is happening, but because you can’t determine who’s getting bludgeoned. You try to stay around for the ride, but it’s too difficult to stay focused when each side may as well be filled with generic soldiers that we have absolutely no attachment to.
Also, in regards to the action scenes, the excess blood comes off looking silly. It’s clear that there’s a lot of CGI blood being used, and when it squirts out of extremities in ways that are unrealistic, we notice. Setting these fights against a gray-blue background, and the blood stands out like a sore thumb. There are more than a few moments where this took me out of the film, and since this isn’t a b-movie like a couple of Marshall’s other efforts, but instead a semi-serious period piece, these types of blood effects don’t work.
I say “semi-serious” because I’m not sure that Marshall took the source material and gave it all of the respect that it deserves. The people who we follow are supposed to be the missing “Ninth Legion”, but little indication is given of that in the film. But the fable is turned into a film that plays out like an extended chase sequence. The opening isn’t like this, but after the ambush I talked about earlier, almost all of the film is like this.
And then there is the dialogue, which doesn’t reflect the time period at all. Obviously I can’t be completely sure of this, but I’m fairly certain that the Romans didn’t speak like we do in the modern-day. In fact, considering how taboo certain four letter words were just a century ago, I sincerely doubt that they would go around saying such “blasphemy” in AD 117. But, this is where the “semi-serious” part of the film comes in again. If Marshall was trying for a completely faithful re-telling of, well, anything, then he failed. But I don’t believe that to be the case, because his past history shows that this isn’t the type of writer or director that he is.
The actors are fine, but are nothing special. Everyone does a decent job, because they kept a straight face despite all of the foolishness that is going on around them, but there isn’t any depth to their performances. Since none of the characters are given anything to stand-out from the rest of the crowd, it’s hard to even notice the actors playing them. The exception to this is Kurylenko, who stands out because she is female. But she brings some life to her character, even though she doesn’t get a single line of dialogue. (Not even in a flashback that I was almost certain would appear, but didn’t.)
The biggest shame about Centurion is that it gets off to a good start, but ends up degenerating into a long, drawn-out chase sequence. The first 20 or so minutes are actually really engaging and fun to watch. We open strong, with a beat-up Dias trying to escape. We then learn of the two weeks that lead up to this moment. But as soon as we return to present time, the film becomes boring and I stopped caring. Dias also has almost no personality after what’s shown in the first few minutes, which makes it hard to care about him.
I like Neil Marshall, but this is his weakest film though. There were points were it was a fun watch, but the majority of the film is a chase sequence revolving around indistinguishable characters that I cared so very little about. The action scenes are not good enough to save the uninteresting plot, because they riddled with noticeable CGI blood and the fact that it’s hard to tell if the characters you’re watching fight are ones you’ve even seen before. Centurion is a mess of a film, and isn’t one you should seek out, even if you’re a fan of Neil Marshall.