GENRE: Roman bromance
THE PITCH: In second century Britain, Roman centurion Marcus Aquila (G.I. Joe's Channing Tatum) enlists brooding slave Esca (Billy Elliott's Jamie Bell) to guide him through the untamed highlands to recover the long-lost Ninth Legion's Eagle standard.
MONEY SHOTS: The Romans defend a besieged fort by igniting the moat. Marcus and his men use a phalanx formation to rescue trapped soldiers from invaders. On the run from bad guys, Esca insists they keep up their strength by eating raw, skinned rat. Reinforcements arrive out of the mist for a final showdown in a river bed.
BEST LINE: "As you probably noticed, we're having problems with the latrines, but we've got someone working on it," announces Marcus's right-hand man (Denis O'Hare) at the Roman fort in one of several clever details that suggests that soldiering never changes much over the centuries.
WORST LINE: "The worst were the painted warriors of the seal people." Once The Eagle starts speaking in hushed tones about the fierce Scottish tribe called the Seal People the film becomes impossible to take seriously. You imagine warriors who balance beach balls on their snouts while flapping their flippers.
BODY COUNT: Several dozen, but the kills are surprisingly bloodless, as if The Eagle was filmed to be a viscera-spraying R, then cut to a tame PG-13. For instance, the Celtic-speaking native warriors have these Ben-Hur-style chariots with protruding blades, but despite the buildup, we don't actually see how they cut through their enemies.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Marcus rides into battle wearing one of those brushy-plumed helmets that looks kind of like a showgirl's headpiece. The shirtless, tattooed, lamely named "rogue warriors" who attack Marcus and Esca could be Metallica fans. The "seal prince" (Tahar Rahim) is inexplicably smeared with gray-blue makeup.
FLESH FACTOR: Marcus sleeps in a loincloth. After Marcus and Esca ride past Hadrian's Wall marking the "end of the world," they see dead, nude bodies dangling from a tree. (Fans of the skin on the "Rome" and "Spartacus" cable series should know that the film features practically no female characters.)
CASHING THE PAYCHECK: Donald Sutherland seems to enjoy himself as he brings some Old Hollywood hamminess to his role as Marcus's well-off uncle.
BETTER THAN CENTURION? No. The second "Ninth Legion" action flick in six months, The Eagle lacks the commanding performances and period-appropriate ultraviolence of Neil Marshall's Centurion, and lacks the prior film's metaphorical clarity about unjust imperial occupations.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The gripping first act suggests Apocalypse Now in ancient Scotland as Marcus marshalls his forces at "the end of the world." Unfortunately, The Eagle turns talky and tedious as it subsequently emphasizes the wary, vaguely homoerotic alliance of Roman master and British slave. Neither the thin script nor Tatum's beefy performance can raise The Eagle as an intriguing character study, but it's not fun or violent enough to be a kick-ass guilty pleasure.