I guess stories about Centurions and Legionaries never go out of fashion along with its themes of valour, honour, camaraderie and the likes, and The Eagle adapts from the book The Eagle of the Ninth written by Rosemary Sutcliff published about a half century ago, set in the 2nd Century just after Hadrian's Wall went up in Britain. I suppose given director's Kevin Macdonald's success with yet another historically based drama The Last King of Scotland that he decides to take another crack at it, albeit this time with a little bit more swords and sandals violence.
In recent years we've already seen a number of such films with the likes of Neil Marshall's Centurion and The Last Legion starring Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai, but this one had a little narrative boost with its historical reference involving the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion weaved into the narrative and forming the back story of its protagonist Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), who had asked for the Britain post in order to seek the lost honour of his father, leader of the Ninth who had reputedly surrendered cowardly to the enemy.
For starters, Channing Tatum isn't really your character actor, but looked totally in place with brawn over brains leading his men into battle and convincing peers that his family name isn't as tainted as it should be. But for a moment of bravado he gets himself injured and discharged honourably, living at his uncle's place until word came that the eagle standard of the 9th Legion had been found to be in the hands of some indigenious tribe outside of their safe haven. To lead a team into hostile territory will be suicide, but Marcus seeks out that sole opportunity to reclaim his father's name, and coming in tow is the slave Esca (Jamie Bell) with whom he forms a love-hate relationship.
It's a standard action adventure where you put together two misfits who are as serious as can be in seeking out the objective of their quest, containing all the usual formation of a strong friendship cliche made more difficult when the master-slave role got reversed when they're held captive. And you also can't put aside some of the homoerotic undertones between the two men in Batman and Robin fashion, with constant longing gazes at times reflective of threats to get back at each other given the flip=flopping master-slave roles they have to play. The screenplay by Jeremy Brock chooses to focus primarily on the friendship of the men, putting aside the politics of the occasion other than to paint the politicians and bureaucrats as fat cats who talk a lot and sit on their bums.
The battle sequences though were a different cup of tea altogether, with Kevin Macdonald opting for very a very visual treatment that didn't flinch from the bloodier and gorier aspects of close combat. Rarely do you see a decapitation happen on screen, but The Eagle does just that without cutting away. Sure it's movie magic, but the effect is nothing but startling, in addition to slit throats and dismembered limbs. If you're craving for standard period action-adventure fare, then The Eagle will be that film for you this weekend. Look out for that Mark Strong cameo.