A repost of our review from the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year…

The SXSW Film Festival had been low on surprise screenings, but on Monday, March 15th, a lucky group of about a 150 people — including yours truly — got to see what turned out to be the world “secret” premiere of Neil Marshall’s “Centurion”at the Alamo Drafthouse starring Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West (McNulty from “The Wire”) and lovely, ginger-haired up and coming British actress, Imogen Poots. But some audiences — and those without a propensity for mayhem and wanton bloodthirstiness — weren’t so lucky.

We’d love to know who dubbed Marshall the heir apparent/second coming of genre filmmaking and why. While he crashed onto the scene with the engaging, but still overrated monster horror film, “The Descent,” (though he already had one feature under his belt that mostly went unnoticed, “Dog Soldiers”), “Doomsday” was pretty much vapid, if unapologetically dumb; an action/B-movie trash-all about beheadings, blood, gore and enthusiastic displays of violence made for man-children.

And while Marshall has obvious talent, we were hoping for the filmmaker to finally live up to his potential. His fourth feature film evinced that the director hasn’t grown an iota other than being able to deliver a rock ’em sock ’em digital bloodbath (and obvious, easy to spot digital blood) that elicits cheers and hollering from easy to please male audiences.
Narratively facile, empty and essentially a story only in service of chase sequences with several scenes just driving towards action, to call “Centurion” a low-rent Ridley Scott is a bit of an insult to the man who made “Gladiator” and even the dull as nails “Kingdom of Heaven” (don’t even talk about the extended version, please).

Employing weak, structurally band-aid like voiceover, distracting and overuse of anachronistic f-bombs, plus a who-cares melange of accents, “Centurion” is quick to dispense with story and get to what it perceives to be the good stuff: sword disemboweling, fisticuffs and arrows that zip through people’s chests. Don’t get us wrong, this stuff ain’t bad, if you have a some kind of story to hang it on. The picture focuses on a splinter group of Roman soldiers (eventually led by Fassbender) who lose their General (West) and then fight for their lives behind enemy lines after their legion is decimated in a devastating guerrilla attack which is led by a traitorous super solider named Etain (Kurylenko) who is a mute, wolf-like unstoppable warrior.

And while that leads us up to pretty much the end of the first act, the rest of the picture is essentially a ragtag motley crew of soldiers on the run as they are hunted down by Etain and her ruthless warriors one by one. Some emotional through-line is attempted to be shoehorned in via Imogen Poots’ ostracized “witch” character who shelters Fassbender and two of his wounded men. A half-hearted, we-might-need-this-dramatic-touch-later romance begins to surface, but it feels so pointless and does nothing to help the story engine other than give the audience a reprieve from all the grunting, slaying and out-0f-breath sprinting.

While Marshall is a strong technical, action director (though the movie kind of looks like desaturated shit to be completely honest), he might want to consider second-unit work as the empty storyline just seems like an lame excuse for cool, genre-heavy swordplay and action without a ounce of depth, feeling or substance. Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” this is not. Not even close.
While genre fetishists will eat this picture up like a chocolate sundae, those that desire even the most basic story and half-baked compelling characters will likely feel completely undernourished. Fassbender is obviously a fantastic actor, but his presence cannot save this ill-conceived effort that is just soulless, shallow and disengaging. It’s almost shocking how little effort is put into creating characters you might emotionally invest in even on a primal level.

Make no mistake about it either, while Warner Bros. had a hand in funding the picture, it’s very telling that the infinitely smaller Magnet Films — the B-movie wing of Magnolia Pictures — is releasing the film. Warner might actually assist with the marketing at some point* (*ok, they didn’t), but the niche films Magnet generally releases (and some of them quite good), demonstrate the limited appeal of what many thought was originally going to be a big, successful studio picture. And even Warner knows that a bloodfest with no story is not going to cut it.

If you’d like to see the intelligent and thoughtful version of this story, wait until next February to see Kevin MacDonald’s “The Eagle,” that should hopefully convey the same action thrills, but with a head, heart and soul. This is pretty much an empty picture unless you — like the Austinite named Harry Knowles said at the screening — get an “awesome” erection for pointless splatter. [D+].