Last Legion, The (United States/United Kingdom/France, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

While it's impossible to assert that The Last Legion is entirely undone by budgetary constraints - bad scripting and odd casting choices play a part as well - it's a good bet that the movie could have been better had more money been spent on the production. At times, the movie looks inexcusably bad, with CGI that wouldn't pass muster for a computer game and a climactic battle scene that resembles something staged by a small band of undirected extras playing on unconvincing sets. When a movie wants to be sold as a spectacle, it had better deliver something more spectacular than this.

One suspects that historians and Arthurian scholars will have a collective apoplexy at how The Last Legion treats both fact and myth. The story starts out in Rome and ends up at Hadrian's Wall and somehow manages to tie all sorts of improbable things together. The movie is reminiscent of Antwoine Fuqua's King Arthur in that it seeks to present the "truth" behind the legend. It's no more credible or successful, although I'm grudgingly forced to admit that The Last Legion is at least more entertaining.

Romulus (Thomas Sangster), the last of the Caesars, is on the run from Rome. The great city has been overrun and a brutal warlord named Odoacer (Peter Mullan) is in charge. He orders his second-in-command, the villainous Wulfila (Kevin McKidd), to hold the boy captive. However, with the help of a Roman commander named Aurelius (Colin Firth), an Eastern warrior named Mira (Aishwarya Rai), and a sorcerer named Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), Romulus is freed from his island prison. Pursued by Wulfila's pack, Aurelius takes his lord north to Britannia, where they hope to make contact with the legendary Ninth Legion. At Hadrian's Wall, they learn the truth about the legion and fight a massive battle against a tyrant king.

The Last Legion can at least claim a moderately enjoyable first hour, although things rapidly fall apart once the story moves to Britannia. TV director Doug Lefler, making his motion picture debut, appears to be in over his head. The endgame is dull due to the lack of imagination evident in the choreography of the final battle and the way that each recognizable character must end up in a one-on-one battle with their approximate opposite. This means that the main hero, Aurelius, is placed against Wulfila in a contest that could only be described as uninspired. An obligatory romance between Aurelius and Mira is equally tepid. Aishwarya Rai directs plenty of meaningful glances at her co-star but Colin Firth fails to respond.

Firth is horribly miscast. I'll buy him as a romantic lead or the main character in a drama, but he's almost laughable as an action hero. It's Mr. Darcy with a sword. Kevin McKidd overacts to his heart's content, trying to prove that he's the most badass barbarian in the West. Aishwarya Rai has enough moves to be convincing as a warrior woman, although I admit I may have been distracted by some of her less combat-oriented charms. There's a temptation to be surprised by Ben Kingsley's presence until one remembers a few things about the man. Sir Ben is a great actor but he has shown repeatedly that, if the price is right, he'll appear in just about anything. (For anyone who doubts me, I have one word: Thunderbirds.)

The film's barely existent marketing is trying to sell this movie to the huge fan base of 300, but anyone who goes into The Last Legion expecting anything remotely similar is going to be disappointed. 300 was a big budget adrenaline and testosterone overdose. The Last Legion looks like it was made using the money collected from the director's paper route, has barely enough adrenaline to avoid being declared DOA, and exhibits so little testosterone that the term "eunuch" comes to mind. The Last Legion isn't the worst movie to be released this August but it's not a motion picture I would run out to spend money on. At least when this is shown on television, the magnitude of the production will match the dimensions of the picture.

Last Legion, The (United States/United Kingdom/France, 2007)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1