On a whole I really admire the work of director Neil Marshall. He first busted on to the scene in 2006 with the low-budget horror film "The Descent" and then followed that up with the 2008 action movie "Doomsday." While his first movie scored with both audiences and critics alike, his second film was not as lucky and received some pretty harsh reviews. Recently that movie has achieved a bit of a cult status and I have to say that it was actually the ambitious filmmaking style of "Doomsday" that made me fall in love with Marshall as a director. Any director who would actually set out to make a film that is a hybrid of "Mad Max," "Escape From New York," "Excalibur," "The Warriors" and "The Omega Man" is alright in my book. Now the director has returned with a new film that could be considered a throwback to any of the classic mid-evil war and gladiator films of the past such as "300," "Gladiator" and "The Lord Of The Rings" series. Marshall masterfully orchestrates all of these different elements and the result is an exciting, wonderfully violent and original movie that lives up to all of the films that inspired it.
Besides drawing inspiration from classic movies of the past, Marshall has an ability to set a tone and a mood that is completely original and perfectly fits the film he is making. Everything he puts in front of the camera is specific and purposeful. Every movement, every motion, every bit of smoke and light has been beautifully managed to give the director just the right effect on screen. But it is the action in the battle scenes that is really remarkable here. It is so well choreographed and yet raw at the same time that you believe in every sword movement and kill because it looks so real. The time and painstaking detail that Marshall must have slaved over to direct those scenes is almost unthinkable. I would dare say that these scenes are even on par with classic battle sequences like in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" or Peter Jackson's "The Lord Of The Ring" movies. While Marshall's clear vision for the movie is apparent in every camera movement, it is the strong performance of "Inglorious Basterds" breakout actor Michael Fassbender that carries the picture.
The movie begins in 117 A.D. as the Roman garrisons are struggling to contain the Picts, which are the Celtic inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. By the orders of the Pict king, his troops are perfecting their warfare tactics by eliminating Roman outposts one by one. A Centurion named Quintus Dias (an excellent Michael Fassbender) is taken prisoner by the Pict soldiers and eventually escapes. Meanwhile, the Roman governor of Britannia dispatches the Ninth Legion to the frontlines under the leadership of General Titus Flavius (Dominic West) and a mute female Brigantine scout, Etain (Olga Kurylenko). The legion marches north and eventually encounters Dias after his escape. They soon realize that Etain has betrayed them when she leads them into a trap and all are killed with the exception of Dias and five others.
Flavius is taken prisoner and Dias and the others set out to rescue him. They are successful in making it to the Pict camp but are unable to save Flavius in time. The general orders Dias to take the remainder of his men to safety so their lives can be spared but they accidentally kill the son of the Pict leader, Gorlacon. With only Flavius left behind, Gorlacon orders him to fight Etain to the death, which she wins. The remaining soldiers venture to return home by traveling through a long detour in the mountains but Etain is hot on their trail with orders to kill in revenge for the death of the king's son. Now it is up to Dias to keep his men alive by surviving the tough terrain of the mountains and eluding the wrath of Etain in order to return home to their loved ones.
Visually the film is amazing and I really enjoyed it although it does run a little too long at points. While I think this film is not as good as Marshall's last, I do appreciate a director who is willing to take a big swing. That doesn't mean that he will always hit it out of the park but at least he is trying. The film is extremely ambitious and at points feels more like a made-for-TV movie than a theatrical release but that doesn't take away from the fun of the picture. Actor Michael Fassbender gives an exceptional leading performance and proves that he has what it takes to be a big screen movie star. The actor recently appeared in the comic book adapted film "Jonah Hex" as the villain and will soon appear in Mathew Vaughn's upcoming "X-Men: First Class" as a young Magneto, so the actor's star is certainly on the rise. Olga Kurylenko, who was seen last in "Quantum Of Solace" as a bond-girl is excellent as Etain and brings a certain mystique to her role. But it is Marshall's unique vision and understanding of this material that makes Centurion worth watching for any fan of the genre.