Film Review: Last Legion

I took a film analysis course in the autumn of 2007, for which I had to write a number of films reviews. As I’m sorting through my 320gig hard drive which ran out of space this week, I’ll be posting those reviews here. Why not?

Here’s the pitch: take advantage of the critical success of Gladiator and the hype of the more recent 300 by dropping the ready-made plot of Arthurian legend into the Roman Empire. Toss in the dignified Ben Kingsley as the most notable wizard of quasi-history, put Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth, in a suit of Roman studded leather, and for that extra touch of intrigue cast Aishwarya Rai as the Bollywood Xena. Production company’s ticket-selling dream and the audience’s popcorn-chomping epic of the year. Right? Wrong.

The Last Legion is a lackluster experience which limps along upon a talented cast forced to serve as a mere crutch and motivated by the flickering shine of a should-have-been brilliant idea.

Romulus, blandly played by Thomas Sangster aka That Precocious Kid from Love Actually, is the young last emperor of Rome upon whom all hope for civilization seemingly rests. His guide is Kingsley’s Ambrosinius, a mysterious scholar with a talent for tricks and a well-used battle staff. Aurelius, a Roman General portrayed by Firth, is assigned to the protection of his young new emperor. The trio quickly finds their world torn asunder as Rome is conquered, and thus begins their accidental yet inevitable quest for a fabled sword and last loyal legion of the Roman Empire. Joining their quest is Rai as a beautiful martial artist from India and the Eastern Empire.

The legend of King Arthur and the sword Excalibur is a tale of epic proportions, and its prequel, as The Last Legion is purported to be, must be of equal stature and glory. Glory, however, is precisely what The Last Legion lacks. At no point is the audience invited to understand why this child emperor, this Caesar, is worth the massive battle. Sure, he’s a cute kid and he doesn’t deserve death, but is that really enough on which to stake two hours of adventure? Not even the Sword of Caesar, more commonly known as Excalibur, or the powerful Kingsley dressed up as a finely-veiled Merlin are able to capture the imagination and spirit of an eager audience.

The direction of Doug Lefler does achieve one feat: Lefler manages to make the grandiose landscape of Britannia’s scaling cliffs and sparkling seas nearly as bland as Dorothy’s Kansas – before the color-changing tornado. Patrick Doyle, the preeminent composer modern British cinema, is seemingly ill used in this endeavor, as the soundtrack is rarely of note and feels as if clips were randomly chosen from a dollar store disc of stock audio.

The Last Legion is not void of value. Indeed, the film is a modern rarity in its combination of a cleverly creative idea, a quality cast, and the ability to be safely shown to and enjoyed by children and adults of any age. These excellent qualities are precisely what make the overwhelming failure to excite and inspire so very disappointing. The Last Legion deserves more – perhaps we can convince Peter Jackson and his awe-inspiring ilk into a do-over more worthy of Arthurian Legend.

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