Monday 16 August 2010


Neil Marshall's latest blood and guts extravaganza is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Watch the trailer and get more details after the jump...

In 117 A.D. Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) finds himself captured behind enemy lines. After escaping from the dreaded Picts (a brutal tribe of warriors) Dias teams up with the Ninth Legion, a band of Roman soldiers sent to take on the Picts and kill their leader, Gorlacon. When their Pictish guide Etain (Olga Kurylenko) betrays them and takes General Virilus (Dominic West) captive, the legion must try and save him whilst surviving against the odds.

This is the fourth film by Neil Marshall, Britain's own answer to splatter king Eli Roth. Marshall's films have gradually got grander in scale, but the gore quotient has always remained consistently high. Starting with Dog Soldiers' endearingly DIY special effects, through the grimy, muddy Descent and up to the bloody Doomsday, Marshall has kept the caro syrup flowing.

Not to cheapen Marshall's dramatic achievements, but when you watch one of his films it's for the gore and bloodshed, and this film certainly doesn't disappoint. One particular battle scene with the Romans versus the Picts features more beheadings than all the Highlander series put together. It's like someone brought a trampoline to work at the helicopter factory. Where this film does suffer is from a somewhat slow stream of action. The previously mentioned scene was a stand out, and there's a couple of attacks on some barricades, but that's interspersed with a lot of downtime or characters running over terrain.

The Picts are an interesting race to feature here. A deadly tribe of warriors that are against the Roman Empire, they reminded me of the Mohawk's from The Last of the Mohicans. They're very photogenic and certainly brutal, but it's hard to fully convey their motives when the main Pict Etain has no tongue. Also, shouldn't we be rooting for the Picts? They're the ones who are having their birthright land taken from them. There's a degree of mythology that Marshall is using here, though I felt he could have used the Celtic vibe more. This film could easily have been told from the other side.

Leading man Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the newest British action star. He certainly has the physicality for these roles (as witnessed in the many scenes of him running with no top on), but he also has the ability to act. Here he makes for a grizzled and battle damaged lead, but he's an appealing presence on screen. He was great in last years Inglourious Basterds, even if his character was left a little short changed. I'll be curious to see what he can bring to the role of Magneto in the upcoming X-Men: First Class.

The casting of Riz Ahmed and Noel Clarke at first seems like an obvious attempt to appeal to a youth market, but both guys perform well in underwritten roles. All of Quintus Dias's men are acted well, but none of them really make an impact, except for Fassbender. They're all basically his merry men, and don't really get much of a chance to get in on the action. 

To gripe about the story a bit, it is slightly aimless. Yeah, they've got to head to there because of this. It doesn't really matter. I suppose it's the violence that's the selling point, but even that starts to run out of steam. There's far too much running across fields, even if the backdrop does look pretty. Those scenes reminded me of Valhalla Rising, another film with a slightly brutal protagonist in a foreign land.

The Romans' numbers diminish with every battle, and come the climax, there's just not enough guys left to create anything truly epic. It does end with a whimper rather than the Gladiator/Braveheart style smack-down it seems to have been promising for the whole film. It's a shame that the one superb action scene is slap bang in the middle of the film.

However, if you've seen Neil Marshall's previous films you'll know what to expect. Certainly not for the squeamish, it delivers the requisite amount of gore to appease his fans, but lacks on the story that might have attracted new ones.


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