Starring Channing Tatum and
I rarely pick a movie to review with the intention of destroying it. It’s tempting—damn tempting. When I saw that one of the new releases was a documentary about Justin Bieber, my initial thought was my potential audience. How easy would it to be to write a scathing review of this pre-pubescent pop pulp and turn it into a venom-filled review? Too easy. Or what about the annual Adam Sandler comedy “Just Go With It”? Is there really any part of me that believes another generic Adam Sandler movie would be worth watching, much less reviewing?
To do what I do, I have to love movies. Sometimes I have to see a movie not because it would be the easiest to review, but because it is the film I think has the most potential to be good. That was difficult last week. Other than “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “Just Go With It,” I had two choices: the animated “Gnomeo & Juliet” and the historical epic, “The Eagle.”
The film stars Channing Tatum—or is it Tanning Chatum? (Hold on, I need to check IMDB.com. I was right the first time.) Channing Tatum stars as Marcus Aquila, a member of the Roman Legion who heads to “End of the World,” which in 140 AD was the British Isles. It was there that his father and an entire regiment of Roman soldiers went missing. Marcus has returned to find out what happened to his father and try to recover the legion’s golden eagle. The stakes are high. Marcus is willing to die to restore his family’s honor. Sure, it sounds hokey, but aren’t all these “ancient warrior” movies served with a cheese course?
“The Eagle” is no less ridiculous than most of its modern counterparts. I found it more involved than the glorified music video pornography of “300,” a movie whose success still confounds me. Like all sword-wielding epics, there’s plenty of grit, grime and grotesque violence. There’s a lot of sweaty, shirtless men yelling at one another, and, of course, long-winded speeches about honor and nobility. In a lot of ways, what I found endearing about “The Eagle” was how misguided the characters were. Their intentions and motivations are based on idiotic, antiquated principles.
As a character, Marcus is the kind of impulsive type-A violent moron who believes all of life’s problems can be solved by swinging his sword. Sadly, most of the movie seems to justify his logic. After his first command ends in bloody massacre, Marcus is relegated to the role of observer. He meets a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell) who ends up in his service. Since he cannot lead an army into the north, he decides to venture off on his own to find out what really happened to the missing Ninth Legion. The villains are clans of mud-soaked savages who speak in a foreign tongue. Esca acts as a reluctant interpreter, living his life under the shadow of Roman rule and horrific landscapes that exist in this no-man’s land of the Scottish Moors.
There are things to like about “The Eagle,” mostly Jamie Bell, who is far better than the majority of films he appears in these days. He is the heart and soul in a film that barely qualifies as alive. It’s murky and listless. Channing Tatum, whom in the past I have described as “useless,” “blank” and a “‘roided-out machine with only one setting” is really not that bad here. It’s the first movie where he didn’t seem so glaringly out of place. There’s not much to Channing Tatum as an actor, but there isn’t much to the character of Marcus either. Marcus is headstrong and a gifted fighter, but he’s kind of dense. Sometimes in acting, it’s about finding the right role. If I were Channing Tatum’s agent, I’d probably be looking for roles that read like “tough warrior who looks confused by his surroundings.” I don’t know if I’ll ever like Channing Tatum, but I found him to be a hair above average here.
“The Eagle” is nothing new. In fact, it’s rather pedestrian in its goals. It fits right into the mold of old-world epics. The action scenes are perfectly functional. The performances are wonderfully adequate. The themes are radioactively redundant. The film fights hard to be something more than average but never really gets there. Certainly not the worst movie I’ve seen this year. It definitely has to be better than the other films from which I had to choose.