Though seemingly content to be a B-movie director, Neil Marshall heads further into C-list territory with Centurion, a period actioner that squanders the great Michael Fassbender and Dominic West in murky, monotonous Roman Empire carnage. In 117 A.D., Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Fassbender) is captured in the misty mountains of Great Britain by an indigenous guerilla warrior tribe known as the Picts. With their long stringy hair, patchwork animal-carcass clothing, tribal face paint, and multi-bladed weapons, these savage villains closely resemble the Mad Max-redux lunatics from Marshall’s Doomsday, including the badass mute warrior babe, Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who leads the hunt for Quintus once he escapes imprisonment and joins up with the battalion of General Virilus (West).
While a story about a monumental military force facing fierce resistance from a land’s native fighters might naturally lend itself to contemporary allusions, Marshall is after nothing more than gruesome combat full of skulls exploding into chunks of red meat and necks being slashed with gurgling brutality. Too bad, then, that his centerpiece mayhem is so monumentally dull, shot in unimaginative colorless hues, faux-gritty realism, and frenetic incoherence à la Ridley Scott.
Trapped behind enemy lines with those lucky few comrades to have survived the Picts’s assaults, Quintus endeavors to make it back home, but Marshall—alternating between forest-set male-camaraderie vignettes and spastic battle sequences in a vein similar to his overrated Dog Soldiers—never makes his heroes’ quest seem urgent or of any consequence. This is partly due to his plotting, which involves mishmashing loosely connected scenes together without ever suggesting the remaining distance his characters have to travel before securing sanctuary, or the means by which Quintus and company’s stock adversaries always magically discover their whereabouts at the most inopportune moments. But mainly, Centurion doesn’t engender any interest because the film itself shows no concern for creating characters worth caring about, with Quintus’s featurelessness so pronounced, and his dimly lit, narratively sluggish quest so vacuous and formulaic, that the intense Fassbender is reduced to stoutly posturing in a vacuum.