Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Last Legion Review

For years now I've been a fan of military history, and thanks to the Dream of Eagles series of novels, I've taken an interest in the decline of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the dark ages around 400 CE in Britain. Since the general concept to The Last Legion is more or less the same as the beginings of A Dream of Eagles, I had high hopes knowing that the building blocks for such a historical telling of the Arthurian legend were all there. Sadly, however, The Last Legion starts with promise but simply gets worse as it moves on.

The film begins towards the end of the 5th century, after Rome has long since recalled its Legions to protect the heartland of the Empire from the amassing barbarian hordes that threaten her. Aurelius (Colin Firth) is one of those soldiers now sworn to the guard of the new Emperor, the child Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster). On the day of Romulus' coronation, Odoacer (Peter Mullan) and his foederati army assaults and captures Rome, killing Romulus' parents and taking the boy prisoner. Ultimately, Romulus and his guardian Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley) are sent as prisoners to Capri where they are ultimately rescued by Aurelius and his companions after discovering Excalibur. Following another series of betrayals by the Eastern Empire, they flee to Britain in search of the 9th Legion, the last Roman Legion still loyal to the young Emperor.

Unfortunately, The Last Legion gets many of its actual historical facts wrong, however being a historical fiction this would certainly have been forgivable had the film been dramatic, but it falls quite short of this mark. The characters themselves, both heroes and villains, are bland and one dimensional, and there's never any real sense of urgency or tension in the film's conflicts. Really, it was mostly all cheesy. It starts of with the promise of a historical spectacle, but once the exiles reach and begin to explore Britain, the remainder of the plot and the additional villain of the British warlord Vortgyn are so goofy that they're laughable.

The costumes and sets are well done, however (I liked the sight of Hadrian's Wall), and the film certainly features some entertaining, action-packed battles, however I must confess disappointment at seeing the 9th Legion fail fight as a real Legion would have, in disciplined line formations of infantry. The music itself is also fairly forgettable and fails to inspire.

Basically, while it did have its entertaining moments, mainly in the first hour, I simply can't recommend paying to see The Last Legion in theatres, or even as a DVD rental. When it hits TV as something free, and should you find yourself bored with nothing else to do, then it could prove to be interesting enough to kill an afternoon. Otherwise, there are much more enlightening and entertaining ways to discover how that famous sword got in the stone.

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