Sword and Sandal adventures ensure in this Roman Butch & Sundance. There was almost
Sword and Sandal adventures ensure in this Roman
Butch & Sundance.
There was almost
certainly a moment during pre-production on The Eagle when director Kevin McDonald must have cursed the
gods for Neil Marshall. For while
McDonald was busy putting together his epic take on the Eagle of The Ninth
Legion so Marshall was quickly shooting his blood and guts take on the same
myth with the likes of Michael
Fassbender and Noel Clarke.
Clearly not wanting to compete with Centurion,
The Eagle was pushed back. The reality is that the two could almost play as
prequel and sequel and would make for an interesting double bill.
after the legendary Ninth Legion vanished, the son of the Legion’s leader
Marcus Aquila (Tatum) is determined
to uncover the truth about what happened to the Legion’s banner, The Eagle.
Venturing across Hadrian’s Wall, with only his slave Esca (Bell) to aid him, Marcus soon discovers that The Eagle’s
disappearance is not as straightforward as the stories would have us believe.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Eagle is
always intended to be very much a boys-own adventure romp. There are few, if
any, female characters but this was a time when men were soaked in blood and
women were giving birth and tending the wounded. Unlike Centurion this film
delivers less action but considerably more substance.
For the first
half-hour The Eagle is immediately reminiscent of Gladiator (2000), which is never a bad thing. McDonald brings some
solid, fog filtered, mood and atmosphere to proceedings before ‘unleashing
hell’ in a hugely visceral skirmish on a Roman fort. His documentary-verity
style allows us to be up close and personal to the action, and watching the
Roman army’s efficiency in action is hugely enjoyable.
Once over the
wall though the film switches tack. In this world Aquila must hide as all
Roman’s are despised. A journey into an unknown world is one thing but here
Aquila must accept that Esca, a slave he saved from gladiatorial death, is in
command. It is through their ever-changing relationship that The Eagle really
soars. Despite swearing loyalty to Aquila, Esca’s true motives are kept
ambiguous and so the every burgeoning tension between the two makes for
intriguing viewing. In fact there are points towards the end that it delves
into Top Gun (1986) like homoerotic
Tatum is more
than convincing as the Roman soldier, about as square-jawed as Desperate Dan
you never doubt that he could kick seven-shades of something out of anyone he
wanted. Crucially though he plays the conflicted son and lost warrior well.
Bell on the other hand continues to be an actor worth watching. As Esca he
underlines everything with a fearsome angst that allows him to remain
mysterious up until the conclusion of the story.
The end feels a
little clichéd, but thanks to some good visuals and exciting action is more Last Of The Mohicans (1992) rather than
the damp ending of Centurion. Nonetheless The Eagle is a film that makes for a
fun romp of a matinee movie. It might
not be a run away hit but this Eagle certainly flies high.