(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 13, 2008)
This movie took me by surprise. It barely played in the theaters, I don’t recall reading any reviews of it, and as likable as he is, Colin Firth never struck me as an action hero. But then we watched it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Firth plays Aurelius, the Roman soldier in charge of Caesar’s personal guard – Caesar, in this case, being the adolescent Romulus, who has the bad luck to be crowned emperor just before Rome falls to the Goths. Aurelius, with the help of some fellow legionaries and a hot female warrior from India (don’t ask, it make sense in the movie), rescues Romulus and his sage old mentor, a wizard from the far-off province of Brittania, from the Goths who have captured them. Then, with the Goths in hot pursuit, the group heads for Britannia, where the only remaining loyal Roman legion, the Ninth, is posted. Thus the title of the movie. Of course, more complications and battles ensue once they get there.
Now, there’s not a single thing in this movie that you haven’t seen numerous times before. I don’t mind that if it’s done well and the participants seem to be enjoying themselves, which is the case here. Firth makes for a surprisingly tough and gritty hero, his legion buddies are basically the same squad of good guys who show up in just about every war movie ever made, Ben Kingsley chews the scenery just fine as the old wizard, the kid emperor manages not to be too cute, and I believe I mentioned that Aishwarya Rai (one of those Bollywood actresses, I assume; I’m too lazy to look her up on IMDB) is hot. Kevin McKidd, who plays a fairly sympathetic character on HBO’s ROME (which we’re also watching on DVD, and which I’ll comment about eventually), is suitably villainous as the Goth warrior who leads the pursuit to Britannia. Best of all, though, there isn’t an abundance of special effects, and the battle scenes are staged and edited in a very old-fashioned manner – in other words, you can actually tell what the heck is going on most of the time.
This movie reminded me a lot of Jack Whyte’s excellent Camulod Chronicles novels. If you’ve read those and enjoyed them, I think there’s a good chance you’d like THE LAST LEGION as well. Predictable or not, it’s one of the most entertaining films we’ve seen recently.