Film discussion

Neil Marshall Filmography – Centurion

Next week will see the premiere of the rebooted Hellboy, which will see Stranger Things David Harbour taking up the mantle from Ron Perlman, and stepping into the director shoes left by Guillermo del Toro is Neil Marshall. We have been taking a look back over Marshall’s filmography over the last few weeks, and this week see us casting our eyes over his last film, 2010’s Centurion.

Although there are some similarities to his earlier works, Centurion feels like a very different beast. Drawing on his previous films, Centurion sees a group of individuals once again beset upon by terrifying forces, but this time the heroes are members of the fabled Ninth Legion being hunted by the Picts in Scotland. For a long time, it was believed that the 5,000 Roman soldiers had vanished completely in the wilds of Caledonia and this film offers a fictional explanation as to why.

Starring the likes of Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Liam Cunningham and Olga Kurylenko, Centurion had all the makers of being a success, but sadly it just did not deliver. It received mixed to positive reviews from critics and it only managed to make back half of it’s £12 million budget. Visually it is a very beautiful film, showcasing some breathtaking wide shots of the Scottish scenery, and this time it really is Scotland unlike Luxembourg for Dog Soldiers and South Africa for Doomsday, but beyond that is falls somewhat flat.

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It certainly isn’t the fault of the cast who always seem to give their all in their performances, but rather the script falls flat and none of the characters seem to have enough charisma to make audiences care about what happens to them. There is also the plot itself, the Legion is wiped out fairly quickly due to the actions of the treacherous Etain (Olga Kurylenko) leaving a small group led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) to try and make it back to the Roman lines. Slowly but surely the group is picked off by the Picts, or by yet more betrayal, until the last three Romans choose to make a last stand. This sounds like a good concept, but it just never seems to truly deliver. There’s one moment where the group are being chased toward an unexpected ravine that feels tense, but the rest of the film just doesn’t have the level of tension you would want from it.

Like all of Marshall’s films there is plenty of gore, and some very good physical wound effects that happen during the fight scenes, to delight and entertain fans of such things. Marshall also continues to deliver on strong, female characters. Etain and Aeron (Axelle Carolyn) more than hold their own as part of the Pict hunting party, however, Arianne (Imogen Poots) feels out of place. Although she helps the Romans hide from the hunters, she feels as though she was purely introduced to become Dias’s eventual love interest. The original script had Arianne playing a more interwoven role and would see her be a part of the film’s climax, but the producers cut this from the final script before filming. This became yet another part of the film that just failed to deliver.

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There are some good parts to the film, the opening assault on a Roman fort by the Picts and the ambush on the Ninth Legion are standout moments and make for good action sequences, and you again have to applaud Marshall for staying away from green screens and too many computerised special effects. Marshall has proven he can deliver good films, Dog Soldiers and The Descent showcase this and even Doomsday has enough positives to bypass the negatives, but Centurion just does not. At times it is very boring, the characters just do not have enough substance to them, and the ending is wholly unsatisfying.  

If Marshall had done nothing since Centurion, or if it had been his only film to date, then there would be genuine concerns about what he is going to do with Hellboy, but he has had success since then with television. His work on Game of Thrones, Black Sails and Lost In Space still show he has talent. Hopefully, Hellboy will see a reignition of his film work and that it will not suffer the downward trend that started to show in Doomsday and then hit bottom with Centurion.

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