Centurion - Review

A raggedy band of second-century Roman soldiers scramble to escape revenge-bent Pict warriors in ancient Blighty in the rousing if slightly predictable chase drama "Centurion." Working with a heftier budget than he had for his last, "Doomsday," horror-trained British helmer Neil Marshall flexes strong action muscles and carves copious flesh here, creating the sort of broadsword-based bedlam that will thrill fans of ancient martial movies. Nevertheless, macho pic may lack the sort of cross-quadrant appeal that made Marshall's second, all-femme, ensemble "The Descent," a sleeper hit. Good word-of-mouth will be needed to build an empire of followers.

After a flashforward preamble that sees protagonist Quintus Dias (played by a chiselled Michael Fassbender) stumbling half-naked through the snow, it's established that action unfolds in 117 AD, on the very edge of the Roman Empire, in what's now Scotland. Like many a superpower that would follow in Rome's footsteps, the would-be continental conquerors are finding it hard work vanquishing the local barbarian horde, in this instance the Picts. Using guerrilla tactics, these fierce warriors bedevil the Roman legions with constant raids on the Romans' forts, one of which wipes out Quintus' cohort.

For unexplained reasons, Quintus can speak Pictish (per pic's press notes, subtitled dialogue for these scenes is actually Scots Gaelic since little is known about the real Pictish language), so he's taken prisoner instead of merely slain. While being marched across country by a small band of Pict guards, a skirmish with the Roman Army's Ninth Legion liberates Quintus. He joins forces with his countryman, who are led by roistering man-of-the-people General Titus Virilus (Dominic West, who's character name here is just a bit too on the nose, recalling the joke pseudo-Latin monikers used in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" and the Asterix comics).

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