Neil Marshall's "Centurion" has a whole lot of ambition but unfortunately the over-used plot points become too much of a been there done that routine to walk away all that excited. Nearly every aspect of the survival filled movie has been seen before. That is not to say that the quasi-historical action isn't filled with brutal swordplay and white knuckle action sequences, because it is, they just come across as an old hat on some new faces.
Speaking of the faces, I have a ton of mixed emotions about the cast. Michael Fassbender nails his performance. He has just enough charisma to keep you engaged when the film hits a few lulls in momentum. He also carries the group dynamic fairly well with the other Roman soldiers caught behind enemy lines. Dominic West and Olga Kurylenko on the other hand do nothing to engage the viewer. I have to admit my feelings on West are biased, I have yet to enjoy him in any role I've seen him in. Something about him comes off abrasive regardless of the fact most of his characters are intended to be that way. Kurylenko however is nothing but eye candy and proves that ten fold. Kurylenko plays a mute warrior and her performance is about as believable as her playing an unattractive obese struggling woman. Every time she is on screen I pictured some cameraman in the background screaming, "Work it, work it, look fierce, you're a fierce lioness!" Simply said she just does not work for me.
There is an odd sense about "Centurion" that forces the viewer to question just who we are suppose to be rooting for. You start off thinking okay, I'm suppose to be siding with the Romans, then the film shifts to having you believe the Pict warriors are who we should be cheering on. Then the film decides to flip flop back and forth so many more times that by the end you don't care who side is whose, you'd just wished them all a violent death.
On to the violence. Being a Neil Marshall movie, one should expect some in your face violence and you definitely get just that. A big majority of the battles are high energy, filled brutality and lots of bloodshed. About the bloodshed for a minute, "Centurion" features both practical blood effects and cgi. Unfortunately I have nothing positive to say about the cgi blood. It is completely off setting. It looks nothing like real blood. On the positive side some of the limbs that we see hacked off are worth dealing with the sprays of cgi blood. All of the practical effects are great. Marshall knows his way around an action and he gives us a number of worthwhile sequences here.
Another avenue I walked away from "Centurion" with mixed emotions was it's overall look. The film takes place in some gorgeous settings and has some fairly well put together set pieces, but the overall grayness to the film just becomes overtly depressing. There certainly is room for an argument that Marshall wanted a feeling of despair from all of the gray, but it just doesn't work for me. I am also fully aware of the grayness to the location. But every scene just seems like extra fog was injected along with almost a silver tint to the film. Something McG tried to no avail in "Terminator Salvation." The overall look just comes across as I've previously said, been there done that. Trick is I've seen it done better.
When all is said and done "Centurion" is a brutal high tension action that has some excellent moments. Unfortunately moments don't measure up to a fluid and thrill packed ride. I'm beginning to think I would like Marshall a whole lot more if he had someone else helping him with his writing. Developing this ideas a little further so that they are exceptional instead of just enjoyable. "Centurion" could have been epic, but it ended up just being forgettable.