Walter Jon Williams watches movies:
Reviews Too Late: The Eagle: I finally got around to seeing The Eagle, which was one of two films released in 2011 that dealt with the disappearance of Legio IX Hispania north of Hadrian’s Wall sometime around 117 CE….This is by far the better of the two films, in part because it’s based on Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth…. Channing Tatum stars as Marcus Flavius Aquila…. Marcus hears that the eagle of the Ninth Legion is being held as a trophy north of Hadrian’s Wall, and decides to go with Esca to find the eagle and retrieve it, along with his family honor. As I recall, Marcus-of-the-novel disguised himself as a Greek ophthalmologist or something, which made a kind of sense. Marcus-of-the-movie is really, really thick, so he goes north disguised as Marcus Flavius Aquila.
After many adventures in which Marcus demonstrates his (a) courage, and (b) general lack of brains…. And then there’s the ending, which I won’t give away.
The film’s greatest strength is also its weakness, in that it makes no concession to modern values. Marcus is a freakin’ Roman, and nothing else. He likes gladiator shows. He is a sincere devotee of Mithras, to whom he prays not to disgrace his unit. He has no problem with slavery, so long as he’s not the slave. He’s a member of the master race who is there to kill the enemies of his people and to redeem his father’s name, and he has no respect whatever for the value of human life, particularly British life. The brutalities of the Roman conquest are not at all minimized or glossed over.
And above all, Marcus cares about honor, and not much else.
Honor, honor, honor. A lesser movie would give him a girlfriend or something, but this one is entirely about military and masculine virtues.
For this reason it’s rather hard for a modern viewer to warm up to Marcus. He’s so uncompromisingly of his own time, and he stands in complete contrast to our own.
Mind, I think this is a good thing in a historical film. The movie does a good job of showing why Marcus thinks the way he does, and it demonstrates his virtues as well as what a modern audience would consider his flaws…