Based on the legend of the Legio IX Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion)—a group of 5000 warriors thought to have disappeared in Britain in AD 117—the film sees emotive former fashion model Channing Tatum as centurion Marcus Aquila, the son of the leader of the Ninth Legion. His mission is to discover what really happened to his father’s battalion and recover the lost golden Eagle statue. Along for the ride is his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), who helps navigate the treacherous lands beyond Hadrian’s Wall (modern day Scotland).
Channing Tatum, an actor poised on the edge of becoming the next big thing, is the central character here. He’s in 99% of the film, and it is his story that drives the action. It’s too bad then, that he is so wildly miscast. Channing is not without his physical charms—think Brad Pitt in “Thelma and Louise”—and is a credible movie star but perhaps a modern day setting would better suit him. Frankly, he’s more San Diego than sword and sandal. In short, even though he gives the role a heroic try, “The Eagle” will not be his “Gladiator.”
Tatum aside, the movie feels lackluster despite its beautiful photography and interesting design. It’s a well made but poorly paced film that puts WAY too much emphasis on the retrieval of the golden eagle, a small statue we’re told is the symbol of Rome. For much of the movie the golden idol is a McGuffin, little more than a device to get the action started, but by the time the story really gets underway we’re supposed to care whether or not Aquila recovers it.
Unfortunately we don’t. It’s a central premise that doesn’t engage the viewer. Also, wouldn’t a large golden eagle weigh at least 100 pounds? The way these actors toss the thing around it seems lighter than a real life sparrow.
Better is the connection between Aquila and Esca. Their slave vs. master bond doesn’t hold much promise as a warm and fuzzy relationship and yet the movie demonstrates how friendship can slice through political divides.
“The Eagle” is a strange hybrid of history and pop culture—a mix of period and anachronistic dialogue with a modern buddy story grafted onto a Roman backdrop—that, despite its title, never really takes flight.