Back when I was eleven or twelve, Rosemary Sutcliff’s stories of ancient Rome were some of my favorite books. Stories such as “Outcast,” “The Lantern Bearers,” and “The Silver Branch” celebrated valor, heroism, and honor…overall, they were quintessential boys’ adventure stories. And when I heard that “The Eagle of the Ninth” was being developed as a feature film, I was very excited. To this day, “Gladiator” is one of my favorite movies…and I can always appreciate a rousing historical action-adventure.
“The Eagle” begins with Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum) commanding a remote fortress against rebellious barbarians. He has every incentive to do his job well – his father was the commander of the Ninth Legion, a military division which marched into the wilds of Britain and never returned. A brutal fight scene breaks out shortly after his arrival, in which Marcus suffers an injury that renders him unfit for further military service.
Desperate to restore his family’s honor, Marcus and his servant Esca (Jamie Bell) set out on a dangerous crusade past the safety of Hadrian’s Wall. Their mission: recover the lost golden eagle standard of the Ninth Legion, symbol of Roman pride. They quickly realize that their task is far more dangerous than they would have expected: the standard has been captured by the Seal people, perhaps the most savage tribe of all.
It’s a simple story, but one told remarkably well. There’s a lot to be said for a classic, straightforward adventure movie that celebrates traditional ideals. There’s no revisionist history, deconstructionist metanarrative, feminist critique, or homoerotic subtext here…it harks back to a simpler, better era where honor, courage and sacrifice were something to celebrate. On this level, the film succeeds marvelously. It isn’t a “worldview movie” in the sense that it tries to promote paganism or ancestor worship…its real messages are much more cross-cultural and praiseworthy. Fans of “Gladiator,” “Braveheart,” and “Robin Hood” will certainly enjoy “The Eagle.”
The film also succeeds from a technical standpoint. Although Channing Tatum certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice to play a Roman warrior, he rises to the occasion, as do his co-stars. The film relies heavily on classic cinematic techniques as opposed to CGI effects, which gives the battles a sense of visceral realism absent in movies like “300.” Overall, the lack of positive critical feedback for “The Eagle” is a real shame – it’s a well-made, well-acted film that celebrates traditional values…and is certainly light-years ahead of other critically acclaimed movies.
Objectionable content, unsurprisingly, comes down to violence. The battles are occasionally brutal and bloody, but nothing that pushes the boundaries of the film’s PG-13 rating. There are one or two mild profanities, but the film is (refreshingly) devoid of any sexual elements.
So, all things considered, should you see it?
“The Eagle” is not going to become a cultural touchstone movie like “Inception” or “Avatar.” It doesn’t push any boundaries of storytelling or demonstrate groundbreaking new computer technology. But what it does do well is celebrate a nobler era where honor, courage and family still meant something…and that, in my mind, is pretty groundbreaking for Hollywood.
A classic historical epic. The quintessential movie for guys of all ages.
Normalized Score: 5.8