Who's In It: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland
The Basics: Young Roman soldier Tatum, seeking to restore his late warrior father's good name, sets off to the northernmost part of England where his father's band of centurions, the 5000-strong Ninth Legion, vanished along with their golden eagle. He takes his British "body slave" (Bell) along for the ride to translate and navigate and together they do whatever it takes to get the talisman back to Rome, including sleeping in freezing rain, killing children and eating raw rats. Moral: restoring your good name in 2011 involves way less effort.
What's The Deal: It's a really earnest adventure set in the second century. And you know what that means. It means you have to tune your brain back to at least the 1950s (it's based on a book published in 1954) or even earlier, to a time when manly honor was positioned above all else (there are no female speaking parts in the film), even if defending that honor meant smashing other cultures in the name of imperialism and forcefully taking what wasn't yours because "the god(s)" told you to. It also means that the master/slave relationship between the main characters, one that eventually turns to loyal, intimate brotherhood, is meant to be taken at face value and not infused with any contemporary understanding of sexual tensions that exist in exclusively male social environments. In other words, yes it's really homoerotic, but shhhhhhhh.
What It Delivers As Payoff For Your Suspension of Everything You Know as a Modern Human Being: It's got its atmosphere down tight. Of course, when you're shooting in the hilly, foggy, wet northern U.K., nature is doing half of your cinematography for you, but still it looks fantastic. And then there's the fighting. It's full of awesome fighting that would be awesomer if it were as realistic and blood-rewardish as last year's little-seen Centurion (a much better, much more brutal film about essentially the same thing). As it is, this one is PG-13 so the sword-fighting clangs loudly but deprives you of actual physical consequences.
Other Agenda Item: Giving Channing Tatum gravitas. That'd be easier to pull off if his face registered something other than stoic blankness. Now, because he and co-star Jamie Bell (the original Billy Elliott) both got their start as dancers, it's full of convincing action, but the acting show really belongs to Bell. There's just more going on there.