(2007) The Last Legion Reviews
James Berardinelli Review
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.
Star Tribune Review
An old-school sword-and-sandal spectacle on an almost-epic scale, “The Last Legion” is such a square and diligent piece of entertainment that it put me in a nostalgic mood for the honest B-pictures they don’t make anymore. It boasts tumultuous battle scenes with real stuntmen rather than CGI effects, real locations, a story line as straight and true as a lance with no postmodern ironies, and an expert cast that, even in paycheck roles, delivers honest work before cashing the check.
The film is set at the fall of Rome, with Colin Firth as a general entrusted with smuggling young emperor Thomas Sangster past the plundering hordes. Ben Kingsley, the boy’s mentor, accompanies them, telling tales of an enchanted sword that will enable them to beat back the marauding invaders.
Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai lends a hand as a warrior maiden who tests Firth’s manly reserve and provides the springboard for some mildly risqué innuendo. Pursued by bloodthirsty Goths, the crew travel to Brittania to rally a far-flung Roman brigade to fight for the crumbling empire. When they arrive, they find the legion has gone native, and an old enemy of Kingsley’s, now a powerful warlord, attacks them on a second front.
The actors are admirably sincere and committed in roles that could have deteriorated into hamminess. Firth is topnotch as the noble soldier, and his brawling fight scenes are considerably tougher than his scraps with Hugh Grant in the “Bridget Jones” films. His natural comic instincts come into play now and again to excellent effect. When a brigade of warriors attack, he shrugs, “Not as many as I expected,” neatly straddling the line between macho boastfulness and an admission that this film couldn’t afford to hire the entire Screen Extras Guild.
Kingsley, in flowing robes and hair, seems to be enjoying a role that lets him fight like Gandalf and instruct like Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Sangster (who carries over the rapport he demonstrated with Firth in 2005’s “Nanny McPhee”), is one of those young actors with a sense of craft that belies his years.
The fights are neatly constructed pieces that build tension and look good, especially those that show the lissome Rai mowing down hulking berserkers six at a time. There’s none of the arterial spray of “300” or “Gladiator” in these rumbles, but haven’t we seen enough of that? Put yourself in the proper boy’s-adventure mindset and “The Last Legion’s” corny moments will just add to the charm.
“The Last Legion” isn’t half bad, but you’d never know that from its half-hearted promotional campaign. The cheesy-looking TV spots, lobby posters and newspaper ads appear to promise a low-rent “300” — a Wal-Mart special, perhaps, reduced to “125.” At its infrequent best, however, this ungainly international co-production more closely resembles an old-fashioned Saturday matinee action-adventure. Pic is seriously hampered by glaring inconsistencies of tone and intent, and often feels like a series of highlights carved out of a much longer epic. But cable and homevid viewers might enjoy the fitfully rousing hodgepodge after it completes a token theatrical run.
The episodic screenplay, based in part on a historical novel by co-scripter Valerio Manfredi, pivots on the misadventures of 12-year-old Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), a direct heir to Julius Caesar.
Shortly after he’s crowned emperor of the crumbling Roman Empire in 476 A.D., young Romulus is in short order orphaned, deposed and exiled by the hordes of Odoacer (Peter Mullan), a Goth usurper.
Aurelius (Colin Firth), one of the few military commanders to survive the barbarian invasion, leads his faithful men — and a sword-swinging Byzantine beauty named Mira (Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai) — on a rescue mission to free Romulus and his enigmatic tutor, Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), from a fortress on the Isle of Capri.
But the good guys are betrayed upon their return to Rome. So they venture off to Britannia to seek help from the last remaining Roman Legion loyal to the young emperor, all the while pursued by the bad guys and threatened by an even worse tyrant.
The chief problem with “The Last Legion” stems from the filmmakers’ apparent inability to decide what kind of pic they wanted to make, and what sort of audience they wanted to target. There are echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island,” suggesting that helmer Doug Lefler and his collaborators may have envisioned purposefully retro, family-friendly fare. (Another indication: Violent scenes obviously have been tweaked to remove detailed depictions of carnage.)
In a handful of other scenes, however, there are hints of tongue-in-cheek send-up, particularly whenever Firth laces his straight-faced heroics with a smidgen of “Indiana Jones”-style jokiness. These modestly clever touches are a welcome contrast to the inadvertently comical scenes where characters posture and pontificate in the stilted manner of standard sword-and-sandal (or sword-and-sorcery) B-pics and TV dramas.
As Ambrosinus, a cryptic sage who serves as Yoda to Romulus’ Luke Skywalker, Kingsley must deliver most of the faux profundities that litter the script. He also has to impose some sense of consistency on a character whose abilities are never entirely clear: During a climactic battle, Ambrosinus is able to toss — goodness gracious! — great balls of fire. But the sudden display of this convenient talent likely will make some viewers wonder why he couldn’t have used it earlier.
It doesn’t help that “The Last Legion,” filmed on locations in Tunisia and Slovakia, boasts production values that reflect a severely limited budget. On the other hand, Sangster makes an engagingly plucky impression, Firth does the derring-do with self-assured grace, Rai is extremely easy on the eyes and Kingsley is, despite the aforementioned obstacles, effortlessly authoritative. The fight scenes are sufficiently exciting, and the pic overall is just good enough to make you wish it were a lot better.
There have been thousands, if not millions, of renditions on the legend of Arthur. Over the years, I’ve read and watched my fair share of these stories but this is only the second I’ve seen that ties in Arthur with Rome (the first being Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur).
A loose adaptation of Valerio Manfredi’s book of the same title )Manfredi’s series is now on my to be read list) the film tells the story of a very young Caesar, who goes to Britannia in search of the 9th, a legion on the outskirts of the Roman empire and the only one not under the influence of the invading Goths. This, the last legion of the rightful emperor, takes up arms to defend the young king in one final battle. Rather than returning to Rome, Caesar grows up to take the name Pendragon and settles on the coasts of the Britannia, forging a new life for himself and his people. But the film doesn’t focus on the latter part of the story instead, it focuses exclusively on the events between the coronation of the young Caesar and leading up to the final battle at the edges of the Roman Empire.
Sadly, Doug Lefler’s The Last Legion doesn’t take itself as seriously as I would have liked. Writers Tom and Jez Butterworth purposefully (or maybe it was accidental?) wrote a script with a peppering of comedy which lends the film a campy air. Thankfully for the actors, they take this all in stride, playing up the comedic moments and keeping the film light and fluffy. Not what I expected from an Arthurian tale but we don’t see too many of these and truth be told, this one is a fair bit of fun.
The only performance worth mentioning is that of Aishwarya Rai and simply because the Bollywood superstar is easily one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. The fact that they’ve got her kicking some serious ass doesn’t hurt matters either. Colin Firth is having too much fun to care about acting and it’s obvious that Ben Kingsley wishes he’d been cast as a wizard in The Lord of the Rings films. It was also fun to see Rupert Friend, Iain Glen, John Hannah, Kevin McKidd and Alexander Siddig all making small appearance. Plus, if you look closely at their bibliographies, this isn’t the first time these guys have worked on legendary period pieces and in some cases, they’ve even worked on them together.
When all is said and done, The Last Legion is a surprisingly entertaining little movie. Not only that, but it’s pretty family friendly with nearly no blood and other than the closing battle sequence, most of the fights are pretty much just dances of swords and a joy to watch when performed so beautifully by Rai and yes gentlemen, Lefler makes every attempt to show off Rai’s good looks while staying well within the PG-13 boundries.
The Last Legion doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should we. It’s just good cheesy fun.
Historical epics have, well, a very nice history in cinema. Anytime a film has been made about a certain time in history, it is usually well thought of and well crafted. Roman epics, in particular, have a good track record with its heavy blood-soaked history, which is displayed by terrific action sequences and up to the mark acting. The Last Legion happens to belong to this genre of films. So, the big question is whether the film lives up to its predecessors. Sadly, it does not as there is not much history nor is the film of epic proportions to even be put in the same class as other great historical epics. The Last Legion is a good idea gone wrong, as films like this are usually bankable. This one totally misses the boat.
The Last Legion is a film that takes place during the Roman Empire, 476 A.D. to be precise. It centers on the twelve-year-old boy Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster) who is about to be crowned the new emperor. But on the day of his coronation, his parents are killed, and he and his mentor, Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), are abducted by the barbarians. Aurelius (Colin Firth), who was appointed the bodyguard of Romulus, must now embark on a journey to free Romulus and Ambrosinus. He is joined by the men of his legionnaire and a beautiful female warrior, Mira (Aishwarya Rai) on this mission. The rest of the story revolves around the attempt to free Romulus and Ambrosinus, and the final war that takes place to make that happen.
The film’s main struggle lies in the fact that it is not a real epic. The plot and scenery makes it seem like one, but the execution is totally different. It is treated like a run in the mill Hollywood action flick. That would explain the short duration of the film because epics are usually long and filled with drama. There is no real drama in this film. All there is running from one place to another, a couple of action scenes here and there, and some really boring overblown sequences. The dialogues in these types of films are supposed to be powerful and meaningful. This film’s dialogues aren’t either. They leave no impact on you and half the time you don’t even understand what they’re talking about. The film lacks any type of soul whatsoever. It tries hard to be serious, but you can tell this isn’t exactly how things went down in history.
One place where the film is commendable is the action sequences that take place. Although they are quite different from epic films, where blood is spilled all over, this film does its best with a PG-13 rating. The action is not over the top or fake. The sequences seem as if that is how the warriors back then would battle. In a way, it was pretty realistic, which is always a plus. But since the film is short, there are not as many action sequences as one would hope there to be. That is a downer because had there been more action, this film could have been better.
The film goes over the top with the little drama it provides; so more action would have hid this deficiency of the film. If the focus of the film was the action, then it could have been looked at as a nice action entertainer. But the film is confused as to what genre it belongs to. Because it takes place during the Roman Empire, they try to focus on the historical plot, which is close to non-existent. This is a mistake because the move isn’t treated like an epic, so there is no need to do that. They were trying to fit in too many things into this one movie, and it all fell flat.
Doug Lefler, the director, drops the ball with this project. If he knew exactly what type of film he was making, it could have been decent. But he is trying to intertwine two different genres in the film, and it ends up making no sense because you are not sure what type of film he is trying to portray. It’s sad that the best thing in the movie, the action, is what you see the least of in the movie. Doug should figure out what genre of film he is making next time and incorporate ingredients that fit that type of film.
Colin Firth does a fairly decent job. He gets more to do in the film than anyone else, and he doesn’t disappoint. The only problem is he doesn’t really have the look of a warrior, so he kind of looks misplaced.
Ben Kingsley barely has anything to do in the movie, which is sad because his character is one of the most important in the film. Many important things in the film revolve around his character, but the only scene where we actually get to see him do something significant is the last scene. One wonders what made him choose to do this movie.
Aishwarya Rai impresses in her first real Hollywood role. She gets the best action scenes, and looks beautiful all throughout. Although, she needs to choose her Hollywood roles more carefully because someone of her talent can clearly do better than this film, as she proved in this film.
Thomas Sangster does very well, as he gets many important scenes to enact. The boy is promising. The rest of the cast is just about okay, as they do not get as much scope.
The Last Legion is no great cinema, which films of its genre are accustomed to be. The things it has going for it are the good action and getting to watch Aishwarya Rai kick ass in a Hollywood film. Other than that, nothing in the film really holds you. The movie tells a story that you may have learned in history class. But just like history class, there are portions in this film that just may make you fall asleep! If you want to watch a movie on the Roman Empire, this is definitely not the one. Watch it only for Ash if you’re a Bollywood fan, which you most likely are if you’re on this site reading this.