The Last Legion follows in the footsteps of Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur in that it gives us Roman origins for the Arthurian stories, and sure there are historians who believe that Arthur may have been a Roman soldier, and who knows they might be right, but I for one would rather see the end of such movies that expand on this idea as these two attempts have seemed clunky, forced, and lacking in…what’s the word…oh yes, MAGIC!
Director Doug Lefler was most notably known as a storyboard artist but he had directed episodes of Xena and Hercules as well, and the straight to video sequel to Dragonheart, but truly this movie could easily have been just an extra-long episode of Xena Warrior Princess, who was constantly running into historical figures like Caesar, but the script provided for this film, by screenwriters Jez and Tom Butterworth, wouldn’t even have made a particularly good episode of either Xena or Hercules. Though to be fair this movie does have its Xena equivalent character in the form of an Eastern warrior woman Mira (Aishwarya Rai) and her fight scenes were easily the best part of this film, sadly, her appearance was not enough to save a film that was so loaded with dialogue so cheesy that it wouldn’t be out of place in a Spanish sword and sandal flick.
The cast is overall not that impressive with only a couple real “marquee” names in the credits, we get Colin Firth as the heroic General Marcus Aurelius, who is here for those of you that have been dying to see Mister Darcy wielding a Roman sword and spouting clichéd speeches, and the amazing Sir Ben Kingsley, who after watching this film makes one wonder how many bad movies you can be in before they revoke your knighthood, and in this outing, he plays Ambrosinus the young Caesar’s teacher, and not to spoil anything but….psst he’s actually Merlin.
The film starts with the usual ponderous narration by Kingsley, all about a sword of great power that was forged for the conqueror Julius Caesar and passed down the line of his descendants until it reached that of Emperor Tiberius and upon his death, it was hidden away to keep it safe from evil men. For generations, it lay hidden in a secret place and marked by the symbol of the pentangle and sword, under the Very gaze of Caesar, while many searchers, such as Ambrosinus, sought its mysterious location. Later we find out the sword was forged from a fallen star and was given to Julius Caesar, and I must say it’s a shame my history teachers left out that cool factoid.
The story proper starts off with the coronation of the last descendant of Caesar, and to our dismay, it turns out to be Romulus Augustus (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a ten-year-old kid with the survival instincts of a lemming, and whose reign is cut short when the Goths, who claim to have been short-changed by the Romans, storm the palace and capture the city. The capture of Rome is pretty easy and apparently only takes about 10 minutes. Odoacer, the Goth king (Peter Cullen), spares the young Caesar and banishes Romulus to the island of Capri under the watchful I of the villainous Wulfila (Kevin McKidd), and he’s the character I had the most sympathy for as he wanted to kill the little snot.
General Marcus Aurelius survives the attack and with the help of Mira manages to rescue some of his men, and so this loyal band, which includes a large black Rastafarian and an Orlando Bloom wannabe, set off to rescue young Romulus. It’s while running around the island fortress that Romulus finds the secret chamber that holds the sword, which is located under the giant pentangle symbol that everybody seems to know represents the sword of power. That the fortress was created by the last person to own the sword makes you wonder how hard these searchers were looking. What is even more ridiculous is that after the kid activates the secret way in it’s revealed later that the chamber has so many entrances that I’m surprised they didn’t have a hotdog concession stand down there. One of the entrances was even a bloody grotto that opens onto the sea! Exactly how this place remained hidden for so long is the true mystery. Now the important thing is that on a plaque by the sword is prophecy (and really what kind of film would this be without a prophecy) that says “One edge to defend, one to defeat, in Britannia was I forged to fit the hand that is destined to rule.” It’s an easy prophecy to remember as it’s repeated a half-a-dozen times during the course of the film lest we forget.
Shortly after the escape from Capri, they find out that the Senators have thrown in with the Goths and that the only chance our group of heroes has is to find the 9th Legion who are stationed in Britannia. Wow, who would have guessed they’d end up having to go there? Well, that’s all the detail I’m going to go into for this review, but here are some highlights I just have to mention…
Things Not To Miss:
• Our heroes trek to Britannia has them crossing snow-covered mountains in such a manner that I kept waiting for someone to complain it was too cold for the Hobbits.
• Wulfila manages to track them all the way across Europe (I bet he can track a hawk on a cloudy day), and teams up with Vortgyn, an evil bastard who is trying to conqueror Britannia. His most notable feature is a gold mask that he wears that has him coming across like a low-rent Doctor Doom, right down to the burned face. The mask itself resembles that of Mordred’s from John Boorman’s Excalibur. Why do filmmakers insist on reminding us of better movies?
• During the final battle at Hadrian’s Wall, Romulus, the idiot everyone is fighting and dying to protect, actually wanders up onto the wall, scurries around the fighters, and believe it or not climbs down the other side, and right into the thick of the battle. And for no apparent reason. WTF!
• After the battle is won Romulus declares that there will be “No more blood, no more war,” and he chucks the sword through the air where it of course lodges itself into a stone.
My parting words are simply this, “Can we have magic back in our Arthurian stories, please?” Really, cause if filmmakers are going to make supposed “historical films” that are this ridiculous they might as well put in more fantasy elements. I mean come on, they cast Colin Firth as a great Roman general, how much more fantastical can one get?
Movie Rank - 5/10
A silly and poorly cast origin story for a tale that really doesn’t need this much back story.