Back in the early second century, the Ninth Legion disappeared from history. The current going theory is that they were wiped out in combat in the Eastern Provinces, but there’s also a theory that they were destroyed fighting the Picts in what is now called Scotland. That’s the jumping-off point for The Eagle, a rather lightweight sword and sandals film staring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.
Tatum plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, son of the commander of the Ninth Legion. He’s gone into the army himself and worked hard to get sent to Britannia, where he hopes to not only recover his father’s honor, but also that of the Legion and to recover it’s beloved standard; a gold eagle. The Roman legions fetishized their eagles (or “aquila“, a word suspiciously similiar to the last name of our hero), to an impressive degree. Better in many ways to lose every man in your legion than to lose your standard.
Anyhow, young Marcus gets to Britannia, takes command of a legion, promptly gets injured and drummed out of the service, then acquires Esca (Jamie Bell), a young slave. He eventually hatches a plan to find the Eagle and along with Esca, heads north into darkest Caledonia. Along the way the two fight, bond and generally have an interesting time of it.
I really enjoyed this movie. It was entertaining, well-done and well-paced. Several of the plot twists were telegraphed well in advance, including the biggest one, which was shown to us in the trailers. But that minor complaint aside, it was good. The historical accuracy was decent (though some of the tactics the Romans employ made me roll my eyes. Where’s your pila, boys?), and anytime I see a movie with Romans not using stirrups I get a least a bit happy. Plus it was cool hearing the Picts speaking Gaelic. Yes, it wasn’t Pictish, but it was the best they could do, and at least it wasn’t the Pictsies. Also, the acting was quite decent, and Channing Tatum seems to have done a good job of redeeming himself after some of his other works.
This is minor escapist fare. It’s nothing great, but it is pretty fun and on the whole there’s certainly far worse ways to spend a couple hours.
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