The Last Legion

The Last Legion


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imagine a really good steak dinner, prepared with the very finest ingredients, from fresh young vegetables to well aged spices. Then smother it in cheese sauce. Not good cheese sauce with an impressive flavour of its own, but the bland, gloopy stuff which you get two of for £2.50 in Sainsbury's - thick, slimy, and decidedly artificial. If the meal still appeals, by all means go and see The Last Legion.

The story begins in Rome. Everything looks comfortable enough, but the Goths are at the gates, and no one with a smattering of historical knowledge will be expecting a feelgood family drama. When battle breaks out, young emperor Romulus is captured and imprisoned on the island of Capri, along with his mysterious elderly teacher. Loyal legionnaire Aurelius sets out to rescue him; but in his island prison, the boy will find a legendary sword leading him to a great destiny of his own.

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Rating a film like this is difficult because there's a lot about it which is done really well. The early part, with the Romans and the Goths and assorted battles, is well realised and provides the setting for plenty of derring-do. There's a proper sense of adventure and the scale of the story is appropriate for a great legend. Unfortunately the sword it all revolves around looks as if it came from Poundstretcher. In one scene one can see a line around the pommel which appears to be the place where the two plastic halves were stuck together, and in the final scene, where we see some of the letters etched along its blade, I was surprised not to discern the legend 'Made in Taiwan'. As soon as it gets near anything mystical, the film falls to pieces. It's agonisingly heavy-handed. Sure, it may have been aimed at children, but it's really too violent for little ones and older ones will be embarrassed by its clumsy revelations. If you do go to see it, leave when, after a battle, you see an old man and a boy walk up a hill - you'll be doing yourself a big favour.

The other big problem with The Last Legion is that it has far too many characters. This may have seemed necessary to the plot, but it means that few of them really have time to develop and we're left unsatisfied by the hasty way in which several storylines are dimissed. This smacks of heavy editing, especially in the case of Brithonic villain Vortgyn, who appears and disappears without us finding out the least thing about him.

Colin Firth is bland as Aurelius and Ben Kingsley fights a losing battle with the clumsily written role of Ambrosinus, the old teacher, but there are some standout performances. Young Thomas Sangster is excellent as Romulus, capable of holding his own against the adult cast yet still revealing the vulnerability essential to his role. He looks all the more impressive in contrast to the awful, mewling child who plays his love interest. Also worth watching is Aishwarya Rai, who gets the best of the action scenes and provides us with an interesting character when she's not busy trying to be Ursula Andress or Brigitte Neilsen.

Films which deal with myths must inevitably contain some predictable elements, but that shouldn't mean that one always knows what's going to happen when a hero is in peril or a mysterious ally appears. The Last Legion keeps so tightly to formula that, once one realises what it's doing, any sense of danger is lost and it becomes harder and harder to care about the characters. Nevertheless, there are some great visuals, and there's probably enough story here to provide mindless entertainment for a Saturday night.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2007
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As a young emperor flees the fall of Rome, he encounters a mysterious sword which will shape his destiny.
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Director: Doug Lefler

Writer: Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth

Starring: Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai, Thomas Sangster, Peter Mullan, Kevin McKidd, John Hannah, Iain Glen

Year: 2007

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, UK, France, Slovakia, Italy


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