The Last Legion
A routine retelling of the Arthurian legend, this bland summer blockbuster clearly hopes to follow in the box-office sandals of 300--but this is no Roman holiday.
Set in 5th century A.D., The Last Legion follows the destiny of the young emperor Romulus Augustus Caesar (Thomas Sangster), the last of the Caesars. A palace coup sees his parents murdered and Odoacer (Peter Mullan) seated on the throne of Rome. With the protection and help of Aurelius (Colin Firth) and his ethnically-diverse band of warriors, and with the spiritual guidance of Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), Romulus gains possession of Julius Caesar's sword--that's "Excalibur" to you and me--and seeks to re-establish his kingdom far away in Britannia. But trouble is never far behind, represented by Odoacer's snarling henchman Wulfila (Kevin McKidd) and Ambrosinus' old nemesis, Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum), who are closing in--leading to a climactic battle in which good battles evil. Care to wager who wins? It's hardly a surprise. What is a surprise, however, is that it took five credited screenwriters to cook up this medieval mélange.
That Kingsley and Firth are better than the material isn't surprising, either; both are good actors, and the material here simply isn't. Firth is stalwart, handsome and heroic--and that's all that's required of him. Kingsley has a few lively moments, and the actual identity of his character is yet another non-surprise. Sangster gives a sheepish performance as the displaced boy king. Indian star Aishwarya Rai is alluring as the fearless warrior Mira, another of Romulus' allies, who appears to emerge from each battle not only unscathed but with her makeup and hair completely intact. Her chaste romance with Firth isn't so much predictable as an afterthought. McKidd and Van Gorkum chew the scenery in an effort to enliven the proceedings, and Van Gorkum's metal mask brings to mind the late-'60s rock 'n' roll novelty The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. As Odoacer, Mullan has only a few scenes before disappearing from the narrative entirely. John Hannah and Iain Glen drop in briefly to no discernible effect, either to the film or to their careers.
Doug Lefler, a veteran of such small-screen swashbucklers as Hercules and Xena, finds himself in familiar territory here. Unfortunately, so does the audience. There's almost nothing to distinguish The Last Legion from any number of medieval melodramas. The good guys are true blue, the bad guys are truly vile--and all of it has a weary air. A few nudges of humor seem misplaced amid the clanking swords and flying arrows. In what may well be an effort to broaden the film's box-office hopes--which won't spring eternal for very long--some of the grislier scenes appear to have been trimmed. Those expecting a more vicious and visceral adventure may be disappointed by the PG-13 bloodshed on display here.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.