Who's In It: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Ulrich Thomsen, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, Liam Cunningham, Imogen Poots, David Morrissey, Riz Ahmed
The Basics: It's a lot of hundreds of years ago, the second century AD, in fact, and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds; he was also the skeevy boyfriend in Fish Tank) is a Roman soldier caught in the middle of an unwinnable war that Rome has decided to wage for 20 losing years in Scotland. So basically it's Vietnam and Iraq and every other war from history where a superpower decided it could take a little nothing country in fight, only to discover that the place turned out to be full of people who wanted nothing more than to chop of the invaders' heads. Lots of heads. Lots and lots of heads.
What's The Deal: It'd be a lot easier to make all the dumb "Tonight we dine in Scotland! On Haggis! With a vegetarian option!" comments I had planned if this movie were actually awful. But it's from director Neil Marshall, who already made the freaked-out-ladies-trapped-in-a-cave movie The Descent and the extremely crazy, extremely gory Doomsday, so this is a filmmaker who knows how to deliver an effective genre movie, the kind that grabs your face and makes you keep looking even though you know it's not going to be an especially classy two hours. It's exciting, confusing, grouchy, growly, historical-ish, high on its own seriousness and full of grimy camaraderie, the kind you always see in movies about men fighting ancient wars and not taking baths.
More Elevating Qualities: Michael Fassbender can carry a movie. He's got that too-good-looking thing and a command of the camera and acting ability you don't really expect to see on display film that's mostly just shouting and slashing. Meanwhile, the whole thing looks great and has that same chilly blue-green-everything and nice production values that the Russell Crowe Robin Hood had. And it probably cost about a third as much to make.
Fans Of All Things Brutal, Take Note: This movie is as violent and bloody as anything you've ever seen and probably the neck-stabbiest film of 2010 so far. Some of the red stuff looks digital but that won't affect your enjoyment of the nonstop impalement. Now, normally I'm against battle scenes like the ones here where you can't tell who's killing or being killed. But when those killings are as blunt and nasty and gut-kicking as this, you sort of forget that you're supposed to care about them as actual people and you just start cheering for more violence. Okay, maybe that's just me.