There's a depressing familiarity found in Neil Marshall's latest movie, Centurion (2010). Marshall made a splash several years ago with his harrowing horror movie, The Descent, but it seems as if that movie is an aberration. His other three movies have been of a piece. It's not that he's reworking the same material looking for new interpretations in the manner of a proper auteur. Rather, he's reheating his left-overs. Really, this movie, like Doomsday before it, is a reworking of Dog Soldiers. Marshall isn't growing as a filmmaker. Quite the opposite. All of this pains me to say, because I like Marshall's movies, even the widely derided Doomsday. Any case, Marshall needs a new shtick.
This is another grunts on patrol movie. This time a Roman legion that has been ambushed by Picts has to brave hostile territory to make it home. As in Doomsday, they are hunted by a feral enemy that employs a goth punk warrior huntress against them.
As in Doomsday, they make it through their ordeal (at a wall, no less), only to be betrayed by their higher-ups. There's not much more to this. Indeed, some of the characters are so similar to one another that I sometimes lost track of who was who. The one character who does stand out--Dominic West's blue collar General Virilus (who is unusually well-named)--doesn't make it half-way through the movie. One wishes that Marshall had swapped West for Michael Fassbinder, but Fassbinder does okay with what he has, I guess. For the most part, even setting this story during the time of the Emperor Hadrian (he of the famous Wall) rather than during a zombie epidemic doesn't disguise the movie's lack of new ideas.
In addition to recycling his old material, Marshall shows a certain amount of bad taste in his influences. This shot, for instance...
...reminds me a LOT of this painting by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier:
Meissonier was a darling of popular opinion in his day by virtue of a certain amount of technical virtuosity, but he was a colossally bad artist. Seriously, Marshall needs to widen his palate beyond the kinds of wargaming art favored by fanboys. But even there, he hasn't actually learned anything. He has augmented his already bad penchant for flash cut run and gun action sequences with a preponderance of epic vistas in which human figures become indistinct to the point of anonymity. (Though, in his defense, the action sequences in this movie are more visually comprehensible than the ones in Doomsday, perhaps owing to the lack of motorized vehicles.) Most of the shots in this movie--the ones that don't zero in on some specific violence done to the human body, that is--look like this one:
And that's one of the more intimate shots. Others are aerial shots and still others are landscapes drawn in a computer. I'm exaggerating for effect here, but not by much.
The movie introduces a love interest late in the movie, but one gets the idea that her inclusion is mainly a kind of deus ex machina designed to give our heroes a respite before the big brawl at the end and to act as a source of exposition. The fact that the bad guys think it's a curse to kill her is suspiciously convenient. She's emblematic of a screenwriter trying to extricate himself from the corner into which he's painted himself. For that matter, the reliance on a narrator indicates a similar level of desperation.
I suppose one could justify the movie on the basis of kinetic filmmaking, and if one is only in it to watch the mayhem, I suppose you could get some kicks out of it. This doesn't scrimp on the gore, and it's very inventive with its catalogue of maimings, dismemberments, and decapitations. It leaves out the sex, though, which, if we're arguing that this works as a kind of history porn exploitation movie, is a serious failing (besides, I for one would LOVE to see a naked Michael Fassbender; just sayin'). For the most part, this is yet another of the director's rehashings of Deliverance, gussied up in period drag to give it an air of respectability rather than the whiff of the drive-in. Doomsday had no such pretensions and was a lot more fun as a result. This movie, on the other hand, is not very good or even very much fun, and that's just a crying shame.