Who's In It: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Imogen Poots, David Morrisey, Ulrich Thomsen, Riz Ahmed, Liam Cunningham, Noel Clarke, Demitri Leonidas, Peter Guinness, Axelle Carolyn, JJ Feild
The Basics: Nobody really knows what became of the Ninth Legion, a unit of Roman soldiers that disappeared in Britain around 117 A.D. -- but genre filmmaker Neil Marshall has a hunch! Could the entire legion, used as expendable pawns by empire-building bureaucrats, have been wiped out by the Pict tribe they were sent to subdue in ancient Scotland? Were the Picts, in fact, bloodthirsty, tattooed barbarians who raised hotties like Olga Kurylenko to be trident-wielding warriors? We may never know the true history, but at least we can revel in the bloody, fake movie history that is Centurion.
What's The Deal: Centurion may use real events as its jumping-off point, but Neil Marshall isn't much concerned with exploring the actual politics of Roman expansion and Pict resistance that possibly led to the mysterious extinction of the Ninth Legion hundreds of years ago. No, his primary objectives are to spill buckets of the red stuff (both practical and computer generated) and foster your budding man crush on Brit star Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank, Hunger) -- and to those ends, he succeeds.
Great! So What's The Problem? Marshall tries to elevate his slash-and-stab extravaganza above the B-movie that it is, when he should just revel in its glorious superficiality. The unnecessary framing device, the overly serious dialogue ("You're a politician. I'm just a simple soldier"), the obvious allusions to current wars, and the excessive voice-over narration about how the centurions are just pawns for The Man? Forget all that and focus on Centurion's strengths: namely, its countless sword fights, stabbings, decapitations, grimy man-on-man brawls, flaming arrows, ambushes, various sharp things used to kill and maim and torture, and all the squishy gore your heart desires.
Bond Girl Alert! Olga Kurylenko plays Centurion's femme fatale, a Pict warrior lady with kohl-rimmed eyes, Klingon hair, and a sadistic streak who never utters a single word because her tongue's been cut out. Like her fellow Picts, she's shrouded in magical mystery fog and recites spiritual incantations that appear to have supernatural powers (further contradicting the attempted historical realism of Centurion's setting and self-serious tone). She's Centurion's Mute-Magic Pixie Dream-Nightmare Girl, as hot as she is deadly and mad as hell. Watch your head when she wields an axe!
For A Better But More Artsy And Pretentious Period Battle Movie With Comparable Stabby Action And Dirty Manly Men: Watch Nicholas Winding Refn's latest, Valhalla Rising. It's as gory as Centurion, stars Mads Mikkelsen, and asks the pseudo-historical question, "What happened to the first Vikings who arrived in the Americas?"