Arriving in weird proximity to Neil Marshall’s Centurion, Kevin Macdonald’s Roman romper springboards off the same historical occurrence: the mysterious disappearance of the 5,000-strong Ninth Legion in uncharted Scotland, circa AD 117.
Twenty years hence, the son of the man who led the Ninth, young general Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), goes on a quest into the feared highland wilderness with Celtic slave Esca (Jamie Bell) to recover both his father’s honour and the talismanic golden eagle from noble savages the Seal People.
Blue-skinned natives battling an advanced invading empire? It’s all just a little bit of history repeating. With their Mohawks and body paint, the Seal People (led by A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) are obvious evocations of Native Americans.
Sure enough, The Eagle is much less a swords’n’sandals epic than a western parable. There’s some juicy subtext here: American actors cast as Romans, the meaningless conquest of Scotland and Marcus’ inevitable role-reversal with Esca.
Sadly, The Last King Of Scotland screenwriter Jeremy Brock’s script doesn’t tease out the sophistication of its characters’ struggles, which are boiled back to themes of loyalty, rivalry and honour.
Early on, Macdonald rattles our skulls with a thunderous battle, as Tatum leads a unit of centurions against a horde of tribal savages headed by a psychotic druid. But this is really a bromance between Billy Elliot and the star of Step Up.
Despite looking like a quarterback with a sword, Tatum has a solid screen presence, while Bell impresses as a Celt who finds himself helping the empire who slaughtered his people.
The Eagle quickly settles into a predictable, rambling path through an extraordinary landscape.
Viscerally capturing the harsh majesty of Scotland, Macdonald’s visuals are brutal and beautiful – you don’t need to go to Pandora for a sumptuous battle-scape.
More mud and rain than blood and brains, this is an intriguing, enjoyable adventure dressed up as a Roman epic. Vivid cinematography and bromance between Channing and Jamie keep it standing strong.