As I write this, I am watching Centurion on TV, the best of three movies about Rome’s Ninth Legion. There are two surprising facts, firstly the Radio Times tells me it is the films UK TV (free to air) premier, secondly, director Neil Marshall hasn’t made a feature film since. He has been busy of TV directing episodes of Black Sails, Game of Thrones, Constantine and Hannibal. His Game of Thrones episodes Blackwater (the battle for King’s Landing (2012)) and The Watchers on the Wall (the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings (2014)) stand as some of the best episodes of an outstanding show. He has also directed a segment of the horror anthology Tales of Halloween (2015).
Marshall’s upcoming projects listed on IMDb are:
- Skull Island:Blood of the Kong; a return to Skull Island 25 years after the death of Kong. I can’t see this film happening with the Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures Kong: Skull Island (2017) well into pre production.
- The Last Voyage of Demeter; the story of the crew of the ship that carried Dracula to England. This film has been talked about for the last five years and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near going into production.
- Troll Hunter; an English language remake of the Norwegian B movie classic.
- Hellfest; of which there is no information.
Below is what I wrote about Centurion and Marshal when the movie was released five years ago:
If there is one director who has never let me down it is Martin Scorsese… Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. The two directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino…. and Christopher Nolan. Three directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan…and Kathryn Bigelow. Amongst the directors who have never let me down are Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Kathryn Bigelow. (apologies to Monty Python). Joking aside none of these filmmakers has made a bad movie, even their lesser attempts that don’t come off (like K19 The Widowmaker or New York, New York) are still worth seeing. But these are A list directors, three of then have won Oscars (two for directing) and the other one would have if the academy members had any balls (that’s a story for another day); but there is another director out there who has never let me down. He isn’t a list, he doesn’t get big budgets to work with, he will probably never win an Oscar and he doesn’t make films, he makes movies. Whist a supremely talented director Tarantino makes homage’s, pastiches or just plain copies of exploitation and genre movies, Neil Marshall really makes those movies.
His first movie Dog Soldiers (2002) was a low budget Werewolf movie, an action horror comedy that isn’t afraid to borrow from other movies such as Aliens and The Evil Dead. Next came Marshalls best movie, The Descent (2005), made for around $3.5million it grossed nearly $60million, it came out around the same time as the similarly themed The Cave that cost around $30 million and only just made its money back. The Descent is about a group of woman go on a caving expedition (for fun! are they mad?) and become trapped underground with a some strange humanoid creatures who want to eat them. Then Came Doomsday, a near future Sci-Fi movie set in Scotland after it has been quarantined from the rest of the UK following a deadly virus. The inhabitants are understandably pissed off and live in a world that is something of a cross between Escape from New York, the second two Mad Max movies and the middle-ages. Doomsday was a mess of a film, but it was a really good fun mess! So what does a director like that do next?
Centurion is the story of the legendary Ninth Legion who may or may not have disappeared around AD 117. The Ninth has been the subject of many other movies and books, most recently The Last Legion starring Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai, and will also be the basis for The Eagle of the Ninth due out later this year directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum and Mark Strong. In centurion, the ninth are sent north to Scotland to kill the leader of the Picts and wipe out the tribe, they get more than they bargained for! After walking into a trap most of the legion is wiped-out; a small group of survivors lead by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) have to find their way south to safety all the time perused by a bloodthirsty group of Picts led by a skilled tracker.
Interestingly the story isn’t really about the Ninth, it’s a behind enemy lines chase movie that could have been set during any conflict. There is a wonderful ambiguity to the two sides, although the story is clearly told from the Roman point of view it is not clear who are the protagonists and who the antagonists are. Depending on your point of view there are heroes on both sides or there are no heroes on either side. There are certainly villains on both sides. The Romans are an invading army and the Picts are a repelling force of natives. When discussing it on the Mark Kermode, Simon Mayo radio show Neil Marshal didn’t appear to want to be drawn into comparisons between the events of the movie and current world conflicts, the most he would say was “The Parallels are there”. Like with most war there are no winners and losers unless you count the winner as the side that lose the least, even they suffer unimaginable losses.
The supporting cast is filled with recognisable faces mainly from British TV and independent cinema, the main star is Michael Fassbender who following two great performances last year (Inglourious Basterds and Fish Tank) is the real rising star of the moment. Strangely the best performance comes from former Bond-Girl Olga Kurylenko whose mute performance as a warrior and tracker with hawk like instincts and senses is visceral and contains more emotion and nuance than Quantum of Solace, Max Payne and Hitman combined.
The movie is well paced and never gets boring with some great set pieces including what appears to be a homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (speaking of homage’s Marshal uses the same Evil Dead references he has used before, it is becoming something of a trademark for him) as well as some bloody, brutal and violent fight and battle scenes. The photography is excellent, both the gratuitous use of helicopter shots of the Scottish Highlands and the up close and personal fight scenes. The movie as a whole has its problems mainly surrounding its predictability and clichéd plot but it does deliver everything you expect it to. Not a great film but a really enjoyable movie.
So whats next for Neil Marshall? Aaccording to an interview on BBC radio 5 last week a he is working on a film based on the 70’s TV show The Professionals. It has not been cast yet but he expressed a with to work with Michael Fassbender again suggesting he would be perfect as Doyle. He is also working on a movie featuring exploding people in 3D produced by Sam Raimi and called Burst 3D. Possibly the first movie since the renaissance of 3D that could make good use of the gimmick.