When the legendary Roman Ninth Legion are ambushed and their numbers decimated by the elusive Picts, Centurion – Quintus Dias, and a small band of Ninth Legion survivors attempt to mount a rescue of their captured General – Virilus, and escape before the wrath of their opponent destroys them all.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, David Morrisey, Ulrich Thomsen, Imogen Poots, Noel Clarke. Director:Neil Marshall. Writer: Neil Marshall.
Modern British Cult Cinema presents another fantastic film from one of our very favourite English directors – Neil Marshall, best known for earlier entertaining epics such as – Dog Soldiers, Doomsday and The Descent. Contrasting to his previous action/horror hybrids, Marshall this time tackles the ancient past with the Roman occupation of Britain in 117 AD, though his trusted trademark of copious amounts of action, violence and gore are thankfully still in full effect here.
Based upon the infamous tale of the curious disappearance of Rome’s legendary Ninth Legion, 3,000 elite Roman troops who mysteriously vanished whilst marching from York to Scotland in 117 AD. Though historians dispute the facts behind their strange vanishing, director – Marshall gives his own account of this classic fable, and one hell of a great medieval period action extravaganza. Shot in the UK, specifically the highlands of Scotland and the English forests of Surrey and Hampshire, the movie is spectacular to behold, lavish sweeping shots of the gorgeous yet notoriously harsh Scottish highlands intercut with the tranquil but sumptuous English countryside, this movie is a feast for the eyes.
Accomplished actor – Michael Fassbender plays Centurion Quintus Dias, a lone survivor of a midnight raid on his remote Roman outpost by a Pict warband. Eventually freed from his captors by General Virilus (Dominic West) and his Ninth Legion, Quintus chooses to stay with the legendary legion on their march into the wilds to capture or kill the Pict Commander – Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) Recruiting a Pict scout – Etain (Olga Kurylenko) to guide them through the severe Scottish landscape, the Ninth Legion begin their march into eventual ruination and defeat.
Marshall presents us an epic and ambitious movie replete with large scale battles, and smaller bloodier skirmishes. As with all of Marshall’s previous films, he revels in portraying the ultimate aftermath of violent action, Centurion has it all – decapitation and impalement are rife – throats are cut, arrows embedded and in one particularly excruciating scene, a Legionnaire is interrupted by a spear, in a none too pleasant manner, whilst urinating, such was the era though and Centurion capture the brutal and bloody past ferociously.
Shot on relatively small budget considering the vast scale of the story (around 14 million pounds) the film has the genuine look and scope of a production that cost at least five times that amount, the size and complexity of the film is on a grand scale, from the aforementioned cinematography, the fantastic actors and wardrobe comprising hundreds of Roman and Pict costumes and sundry weaponry. The acting turns themselves are outstanding, Fassbender is excellent as ever, embracing his role as the titular Centurion in the title brilliantly, though for me personally, the film is stolen by Olga Kurylenko’s – Etain, a strong, disquieting, dangerous but ultimately tragic character, and Olga pitch perfectly captures these emotions, even though Etain herself is mute, a sublime performance. Backing them up in great supporting roles are Dominic West as General Virilus and Ulrich Thomsen as the Pict Commander Gorlacon, amongst many others.
The dichotomy of the film though, is that throughout you are rooting for Quintus and the surviving Ninth legionnaires whilst they are hunted down by the Pict warriors, when in reality the Picts themselves were defending their homeland from the invading force that was the Roman Empire. Though Marshall does touch on this several times in a number of scenes including a sequence where Gorlacon tells captured General Virilus of Etain’s tragic past due to the Roman occupation and their ensuing brutality on the indigenous population, giving the Picts and their cause some much needed pathos.
Very much a Brit answer to films like Gladiator, but made on about one tenth of the budget of that particular classic, Centurion is an impressive achievement. The first half of the film is an epic in every sense of the word with its massive battle scenes, the second half of the movie though is more intimate in its story as the Roman survivors are slowly hunted down one by one by their Pict pursuers. Another fantastic movie by Neil Marshall, and worth the admission price alone just for Olga Kurylenko’s acting prowess. Highly recommended.
You know, we live in a world now so utterly dominated by social media and online critical presence, that nothing is really given a fair shake of the proverbial stick anymore. There used to be a time when the general populace at large would actually, actively make up their own minds on whether they liked or loathed something… by actually experiencing said thing! Now, well they just read and/or parrot what some random critic or stranger on the other end of this magical digital conveyance known as the internet is spouting. Critics and online meta-data collecting sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are (in my eyes at least) doing a huge disservice to both the the hard work put in by film directors and the film industry itself, critics tend to now have the power of whether a movie succeeds or fails, not through how objectively good or bad it is, but often according to their own set criteria.
(May I just say, right off the bat, that even though I do review both comic-books and occasionally movies, I never, ever review things I have not enjoyed… can’t quite see the point in it, heaping negativity onto something that clearly wasn’t aimed at me but might have given other people pleasure seems, pointless.)
Neil Marshall’s most recent celluloid outing – Hellboy immediately springs to mind as a really rather splendid conversion of it’s original source material (a classic indie comic-series by artist/writer Mike Mignola)but one that is apparently, according to online film critics an uninspired remake of Guillermo Del Toro’s original Hellboy twosome (which admittedly were a fun time, mostly due to Ron Perlman’s presence) They are (in my humble opinion) incorrect, Marshall’s Hellboy take is fantastic, and in a lot of ways better (yep) than Del Toro’s own variant!
Director: Neil Marshall Writers: Mike Mignola and Andrew Cosby (screenplay) Actors: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Lane, and Thomas Haden Church.
British film director Neil Marshall has given the world such delicious delights as Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Centurion and Doomsday. He has also directed and produced a number of episodes of HBO’s televisual success – Game of Thrones. He is a huge fan of horror, fantasy and comic-books which made him the perfect choice as replacement for Del Toro. Marshall’s Hellboy is a gory, uber violent, and zany take on Mignola’s much beloved character, and a lot closer in tone and style to the original comic creation, with Mignola himself on-board as co-writer.
England 517 AD, and Blood Queen – Nimue (Milla Jovovich) has unleashed a cataclysmic plague upon the populace. Legendary King, Arthur and his faithful magician, Merlin thwart her nefarious plans by severing her limb from limb utilising the mythical blade Excalibur, and secrete her dismembered (yet still very much alive!) body across the British Isles.
Back in the present day, Hellboy (David Harbour) is mourning the accidental death of fellow BPRD agent and friend, Esteban Ruiz, who, dispatched to investigate a suspected vampire cult is bitten and himself becomes a creature of the night. Hellboy accidentally impales Ruiz, who with his dying breath informs Big Red that a prophesied end of days is close. Almost immediately after returning to BPRD headquarters, Hellboy is sent to England by his adopted human father, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) to help an arcane Demon hunting group known as The Osiris Club in tracking down and killing three giants who are gleefully on a murderous and hungry rampage across jolly ol’ England. Elsewhere a hog faced faerie named Gruagach seeks the help of witch, Baba Yaga, in seeking out the arcane (de-limbed!) sorceress Nimue and once more unleash a dark plague of epidemic proportion upon the world.
Marshall’s Hellboy is a fun and fantastic rollick, a hyper stylised, gory, violent romp with one of comicdom’s most entertaining indie characters. As mentioned previously, I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Perlman as the titular character in Del Toro’s original duo of movies, but actor David Harbour (Stranger Things) is a damn fine replacement as Big Red. With a standout back up cast that includes Milla Jovovich hamming it up (in the best possible way) as Blood Queen Nimue, the always reliable Ian McShane as Hellboy’s adopted father and decent performances from Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim… not to mention a surprise appearance from (and yes, I was fanboying hard on this one) one Lobster Johnson, brilliantly brought to life by Thomas Haden Church. Hellboy is silly fun from gory beginning through to overtly violent conclusion, yet throughout has it’s tongue firmly embedded in it’s (red, right) cheek! Recommended.
Prolific British genre director Neil Marshall describes his movie Doomsday as a love letter to movies such as Escape from New York, Mad Max and the Warriors … all absolute cult classics in their own right, and Doomsday is the perfect blend of these three fantastic movies with a little bit of 28 days later thrown in for good measure. Most people will more readily recognise Marshall’s film work from his earlier movies: Werewolf siege movie – Dog Soldiers and cavernous horror – the Descent, Doomsday was his third movie and my personal favourite so far.
Doomsday begins in 2008 in Scotland with a killer plague called the Doomsday virus rampantly infecting the majority of the population in a short space of time. The effects of the virus are harsh and fast acting, the victim breaking out initially in sores and lesions, ultimately succumbing to an unpleasant and agonising death as the virus spreads throughout their body. With the plague showing no signs of abating, the Government decide to wall Scotland off and leave the people to die, enforcing this with a large military presence at the wall to surreptitiously kill anyone who gets anywhere near the wall’s perimeter.
Decades pass and the rest of the worlds’ leaders enforce a quarantine on the whole of the British isles not allowing any traffic in or out of the country even though the virus itself seems to have been halted. With a growing population and nowhere to expand, the British people find themselves living in cramped and squalid conditions, and then in the country’s capital of London the Reaper virus once again rears its ugly head, slowly expanding its way through the city’s population. When a British satellite picks up pictures of what seems to be healthy looking people living in Scotland, a small team of SAS soldiers and doctors are sent in to find what they believe must be a cure, given only 24 hours to succeed before the Government decide to take more dramatic action and close off the city of London and leave it’s citizens to die in agony.
Leading the team is a tough no-nonsense female soldier by the name of Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), herself a survivor of the original Scottish outbreak of the virus when she was airlifted out as a child by a military chopper just before the country was put under permanent quarantine, her mother was not so lucky and was left behind like so many others, giving Sinclair a personal impetus to lead the team into no mans land to recover a cure and find some semblance of peace about her mother’s fate. London born actress Rhona Mitra plays the tough but fair Major Sinclair fantastically, a statuesque former model (she was the original Lara Croft model for the first Tomb Raider game) with real acting chops, her character is essentially this film’s version of Snake Plissken from Escape from New York, even occasionally wearing a high tech eye-patch.
In fact there are so many similarities to Escape from New York in the first half of the film, the walled off part of the UK patrolled by soldiers, the team being given only 24 hours to find the cure and the music itself are all big homages to the John Carpenter classic. The second half of the movie is Marshall’s homage to George Miller’s classic Mad Max series of movies replete with crazy mohicans and punks, this time with a twist as these savages are also cannibals! In fact the references to Carpenter and Miller’s amazing movies are so prevalent that you could (and I have!) turn this into the ultimate 80’s cult movie drinking game by taking a shot every time you see a reference to one of those two great movies, I guarantee you will be pissed by the forty minute mark! … oh and keep an eye out for the two soldiers aptly named Miller and Carpenter.
The film is full of fantastic British actors, joining Rhona Mitra are … the late, great Bob Hoskins as Police chief Nelson, Malcolm McDowell as Kane the leader of a group of survivors in Scotland and the man who apparently has the cure to the virus. Also the amazing Sean Pertwee who, like another famous British actor called Sean (Sean Bean in fact) manages to die in virtually every movie he has ever been in, it seems if you are English actor named Sean you have about the same filmic lifespan as a Star Trek red-shirted security officer!
Doomsday is a cross breed of action and horror, but also manages to bizarrely (but brilliantly) add in medieval knights and castles to the mix, with at one point the captured Major Sinclair fighting a duel against a heavily armoured champion knight in a castle arena complete with baying peasants. The last twenty minutes of the film are Marshall’s version of the amazing chase sequence from the end of Mad Max 2 (aka the Road Warrior) with Sinclair and two other survivors fleeing in a Bentley supercar whilst being chased by the cannibalistic punks in their post apocalyptic buggies and motorcycles, with the leader of the punks – Sol’s car seemingly made out of the very bones of his victims.
The film itself is not for the faint of heart and very much deserves its 18 rating, the virus effects are disgusting, the action sequences are brutal and the cannibal scenes unflinching and gloriously revolting, If you are in any way a fan of Escape from New York or Mad Max, or even just the action horror genre in general then this movie is a must watch … fast, fun , violent and disgusting … but oh so very cool!
Precinct1313 Rating: 5 cannibal punk rockers out of 5.