Strong female characters in a Neil Marshall film are never in short supply, and with “Centurion” even thought it’s primarily a testosterone laden gladiator film of the highest order, Marshall stamps his trademark style on to it with sheer grit, a noticeable blue hue that makes even the gladiator action feel steeped in grindhouse, and of course he offers up a small array of female warriors in a world where men dominate and do battle in the woods. Marshall is up to the challenge to give his fans a rare entertaining gladiator film that’s not only very traditional in the way of “Spartacus” but features some of the most gruesome action sequences and dazzling performances in years.
Partly a revenge film and partly an on the run thriller, “Centurion” is the classic battlefield sword and sandals epic that chronicles the final days of the mighty ninth legion in their effort to wipe out the Picts in the middle of their massive war that not only reveals an element of brotherhood and survival in the face of impossible odds, but also helps the leader Quintas to discover the disgusting corruption and betrayal of his Roman government in the face of his struggles that could make him in to a much better or much worse warrior when the smoke clears. Marshall collects a marvelous array of British actors all of whom perfectly encapsulate the warriors of this period.
Specifically Michael Fassbender as conflicted military hero Quintas whose own struggles to preserve the strength of his men while carrying through with the mission. It’s made ever the more rigorous and dangerous as they travail through the woods and wildlife of the North running from a relentless band of Brigants led by the vicious Etain, probably the film’s most developed character. “Centurion” sets forth parallel storylines one in which the tones of our protagonists and antagonists are always gray. Marshall flips the perspective of this battle constantly to divide loyalties and watch this struggle to fulfill the mission become a journey in to death and destruction as we follow Quintas for a majority of the film.
We also watch as Etain, at first perceived an ally of the Roman empire, is soon unveiled as a mole who turns on the Romans and kidnaps a majority of the superiors, all of whom she enacts horrible vengeance on them as the film progresses. She mutilates, and battles the men in front of crowds, and tortures them to her liking all the while Quintas desperately tries to avoid becoming one of her victims. Etain is an antagonist and an anti-heroine out for blood as she’s experienced a horrible life torn away from her by the Romans and is now mute thanks to the army’s insistence on cutting her tongue out after witnessing her family’s slaughter.
She is a pure manifestation of rage and unbridled punishment that refuses to be thwarted by the loyalties of the remaining Ninth legion who continue through the terrain of this land trying to succeed with their mission in bringing down the Picts. Marshall stages much of the battle scenes with his usual flair and ace editing providing some truly grotesque scenes of decapitation and torture all the while bringing our characters in to self-destruction going toe to toe in the land where they’re doomed to die as their blood coats the water and grass. As with the usual Marshall fare, “Centurion” is an engrossing and anything but your routine gladiator actioner. Director Neil Marshall thrills yet again setting forth his own vision of the gladiator epic that pays tribute to the classic tropes of the sub-genre, but is concurrently a revenge film and journey in to darkness. With a top notch cast and sharp performances, Marshall enthralls yet again.