Sometimes, less is more.
Centurion could have been a successful acton-thriller and a fine entry into the “dwindling party” tradition. Because, at its essence, that’s what it is. A story about a bunch of Romans who flee for their lives and get hunted down by a bunch of Picts.
This type of movie needs a few things to work right. It needs creative action sequences, which it’s mostly got. It needs a menacing enemy to add some healthy suspense into the works. And most of all, it needs to have characters you care about or a goal you can get behind so you do’t get bored. I mean, it’s not as though the complex, riveting storyline or snappy dialogue is going to keep you interested.
The problem with Centurion is that the movie establishes pretty early on that the Romans are assholes. Of course, considering that this is a Hollywood movie about Ancient Rome that isn’t called Gladiator, the fact that the Romans are assholes is pretty much a given, but I thought that I’d mention it anyway.
Anyways, it turns out the Romans were trying to conquer the Picts so they could steal their land, because that’s what Romans do. They get a mute, scary-looking Briton woman named Etain to guide them to the leader of the Picts, because gettign a creepy-looking woman who is a member of the tribe you are trying to exterminate is a good idea, always.
Spoilers await, mostly in chronological order.
In a twist of fate no one could have seen coming, Etain betrays the Romans and they all get slaughtered. All except for Magneto and a few other people who you just know are going to die.
Let’s play a game called guess who’s going to live. The Old Guy? The Black Guy? The Middle Eastern Guy? The Hot White Guy?
These guys decide to go and rescue their Centurion, who has been captured by the Picts.
We then have a scene of the Centurion yelling at Etain because she betrayed him. It is now that we discover the backstory behind our villain–as a child, her village was slaughtered by the Romans. Her dad got killed, her mom got killed, and then she got raped and had her tongue cut out so she couldn’t talk shit about the Romans.
Wait, what? This is the villain we are supposed to be rooting against? Sorry movie, but now I jsut feel sorry for her. I understand that having a sympathetic antagonist can be a boon for a film, but when your antagonsit is more sympathetic than your protagonist, it may be time to re-evaluate your script.
Still, I have to give the movie credit for having a female character who is not a generic love interest. That automatically lowers its suckiness meter. Here I was worried that there would be some contrived, tacked-on love story between Etain and Magneto. you know, some corny Hollywood romance about the imperialist falling in love with the noble savage. Thank goodness that never happened.
No caption required.
Oh wait, nevermind, that comes later.
Anyway, the trouble with all this is that we learn more about Etain than we ever do about our heroes, even Magneto. All I know about him is that his father was a gladiator. This fact doesn’t really add much to his character or the story, and was probably just thrown in there becasue most gladiators are something modern audiences know about ancient Rome.
Magneto and the other survivors, isntead of doing the smart thing and running ofr their lives, decide to go and rescue their commander. Unfortunately, rescuing a man who is chained up turns out to be surprisingly difficult, so they decide to run for their lives. This wise decision comes too late, because now the Picts know about these Romans and are determined to hunt them down, every last one.
Oh, one last thing. During the rescue attempt, one of the Romans strangles the Pict chief’s son (who looks to be about nine or ten) to death.
So now they evil forces of the tongueless rape victim and the man whose kid just got strangled set off to hunt down our intrepid band of imperialist heroes. Will they manage to escape? Do I even care?
The action scenes are thrilling enough to keep you engaged, I guess, at least for most of the movie. The scenery is pretty breathtaking, too, and the script isn’t that bad. At about the hour mark, Centurion is actually at risk of turning into a fairly decent movie.
For some reason the scriptwriters seemed to be upset by this prospect. Determined to ensure Centurion’s suckiness, they threw in the most contrived and stupid last-thirty-minutes they could think of.
First, Magneto meets a witch in the middle of the woods and falls in love. For some reason Etain, who seems to possess the powers of a bloodhound or Jack Sparrow’s compass from Pirates of the Carribbean, is unable to find them in this witch’s hut even though she has had no trouble tracking them through mountains, rivers, and forests for most of the movie. This allows for about twenty minutes of that contrived love story I mentioned earlier I was so glad didn’t happen between Etain and Magneto. I guess I spoke too soon.
After Magneto and the last few survivors leave the hut (the Middle-Eastern dude, the Greek dude, and the black dude surprisingly not among them, who would have guessed?) Etain finds them in about five minutes. Because the witch’s magic wasn’t protecting them anymore, I guess? Instead of running, the last THREE survivors decide to stand and fight. Interestingly enough, they win, which begs the question of why they didn’t do that when there were still seven of them instead of three.
Then Magneto returns to the Roman camp (all those of you who answered the hot white guy for the question may no pat yourselves on the back), and, for no real reason except that Romans are assholes, his commander decides to kill him so the embarrassing story of how a legion of Rome got owned by some chick without a tongue never gets out. Magneto escapes and goes to live with the witch he met in the forest. It’s happy, I guess, except for the fact that everyone else is dead. The fact that the whole movie revolved around Magneto trying to get back to join the Romans only to find out that the Romans were assholes makes it all feel a bit pointless. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just stay with the witch to begin with. Then a lot more people wouldn’t have died. What was the point of all that running and fighting? I wish I knew.
I guess the movie was trying to have some sort of message or something? Shouldn’t have bothered. Shouldn’t have bothered with the romance, either. Should have just kept it a simple movie about people getting killed off by a badass woman with a spear. An hour into a 90minute movie is a bit too late to start trying for depth and messages.