Substance sneaks into ‘Centurion’

Inspired by the demise of the Roman Empire’s Ninth Legion, a legendary unit founded by Julius Caesar and thought to have met a bitter end nearly two centuries later in what is now Scotland, “Centurion” is less grandiose than Zack Snyder’s “300” but every bit as brutal. If the sight of severed limbs leaves you squeamish, you’ve been warned.

Those seeking a history lesson would be foolish to consult the latest, bloodiest offering from director Neil Marshall, whose past credits include the crudely effective “Dog Soldiers” (2002) and “The Descent” (2005), his claustrophobic venture into a subterranean abyss populated by flesh-hungry humanoids.

“Centurion” takes itself a bit more seriously than those — it’s based on a supposedly true story, after all — but Marshall, who also wrote the screenplay, is less a conventional humorist than one who revels in the absurdity of his ­goriest fantasies.

Here, the monsters are neither werewolves nor sun-starved cannibals but men and women mired in a thankless conflict, driven to savagery by either a lust for life or for vengeance.

Marshall’s sympathies seem to lie with the Romans, whose gregarious leader Virilus (Dominic West) is less politician than populist hero, more dedicated to protecting his men than the Empire’s fading aura of invincibility.

Marshall’s Ninth Legion is outmaneuvered by the Picts, a confederation of Celtic warriors bent on stamping out the Roman threat.
Quintus (Michael Fassbender), the steely son of a Roman gladiator, decries the natives’ guerrilla tactics as dishonorable, oblivious to the hypocrisy of the complaint, but no matter: When Virilus is slain by a Pict she-devil (Olga Kurylenko), it is Quintus who rallies his countrymen from behind enemy lines.

What follows is an unrelenting manhunt more reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” than Snyder’s swords-and-sandals cartoon, though Marshall wisely hits the brakes long enough to give his band of scurrying brothers richer, more complicated characterizations.
Heroes, like Quintus, emerge, and so too do self-serving snakes, but we come to understand both because they want the same thing — to escape with their lives.

Whether they deserve to is another story, and Marshall isn’t shy about sending heroes and villains alike to gruesome deaths. For some, that might be the only reason to see “Centurion” — the visceral thrill of violence, graphically observed.

But Marshall, as much a storyteller as a stager of geek shows, brings enough substance to the mayhem to give it power beyond a few lurid thrills. The movie, as grim as the war it depicts, affords us little reason to smile, but sufficient reason to care.

MOVIE REVIEW
Centurion ???

Starring Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey
Written and directed by
Neil Marshall
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 37 minutes

artscenturionentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a late-game comeback against the Packers, but San Francisco lost, 30-28, on a late field goal. (Courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
The Packers beat the Niners in a heartbreaker: Don’t panic

San Francisco is no better and no worse than you thought they were.

Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based vendor, is under contract to supply voting machines for elections in San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/Examiner file)
Is San Francisco’s elections director impeding voting machine progress?

Open source technology could break up existing monopoly

Health experts praised Salesforce for keeping its Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center outdoors and on a small scale. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Happy birthday, Marc Benioff. Your company did the right thing

Salesforce kept Dreamforce small, which made all kinds of sense

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers proved to be too much for the Niners in a Week 3 loss to Green Bay. It was San Francisco’s home opener for the 2021 season. (Courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers.)
Week 3 NFL roundup: Packers victory over 49ers caps off a stellar Sunday

By Tyler Dunne New York Times Here’s the Week 3 roundup of… Continue reading

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, pictured with Rose Pak in 2014, says the late Chinatown activist was “helping to guide the community away from the divisions, politically.”
Willie and Rose: How an alliance for the ages shaped SF

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

Most Read