“For every positive thing I can say about Centurion there is a negative one waiting to counter.”
So last night, looking for something to watch, I landed on a copy of a movie that I bought a while ago called Centurion. Why did I buy Centurion? Well featured prominently on the cover is Michael Fassbender, a man who can usually make the best out of a bad situation in terms of performances in movies. Also I think I heard someone say that it was good, but I can’t remember the specifics. Anyway if someone did in fact tell me that Centurion is a good movie, they were wrong. You hear that person who may or may not exist who may or may not have told me that Centurion is a good movie? You’re wrong! Centurion is a film that takes place not too long after the year 100, and follows a war that is going on. Who is fighting int he war? I know the Romans are a part of it, but past that I have no idea. Who are the good guys? I can’t really say. I’m going to be honest, this portion of the movie is definitely a wash and it doesn’t matter in the slightest when we get to the real meat of the film.
So Centurion starts with a bit of history lesson, all of which went completely over my head. I already mentioned that I had no idea what the fuck was going on, but I feel that it is a point that needs to be reiterated. The way that the story was introduced was mishandled in my opinion, because the story being told was a small one and yet the introduction tried to get to you to understand all of the subtleties of war. You don’t have to introduce characters and give them a rich backstory when they aren’t going to be on screen for more than five minutes before they die. It was like Centurion had tried to emulate what fans would come to love about Game of Thrones, but obviously someone on the writing team was a clairvoyant because Game of Thrones (the television show at least) wouldn’t be released for another year. Luckily Centurion really picks up the pace about 30 minutes in. After the movie realizes that we don’t give a shit about who is leading which army and why they are fighting each other, the real story can begin. This story follows Quintus Dias, a Roman soldier with probably the worst luck in the world. This luck eventually lands him and six other men in hot water, as they are being tracked down by a very skilled mute fighter named Etain. This is the bulk of the film, this group of men running away from this almost unfairly skilled tracker; and this is actually a good movie. The story becomes more focused instead of bloated and we get to see some pretty funny scenes of these men interacting and telling jokes to one another. Of course the tensions also run high because there is a very real threat that they could be brutally killed at any minute. And speaking of brutal killings, let’s talk about the fight scenes in the movie.
The fight scenes in Centurion are fucking magnificent, and some of the most brutal shit I’ve ever seen committed to film. When these characters fight they don’t just swing swords and their enemies fall to the ground, no people literally get dismembered. I remember seeing a dude get his head cut in half; not off, but in half. Centurion doesn’t pull punches in the gore department and that makes every fight not only intense, but also something that you anticipate almost excitedly. To top off all of these amazingly brutal deaths, the effects in Centurion were great. Well, at least the practical effects were. When you got to see a head rolling across the grass it looked amazing. When you got to see a character with an arrow jammed in their eye, it was astounding. Seeing all of these gruesome brutalities up close really gave a chance for the special effects artists, specifically the makeup artists, to shine. Unfortunately these brilliant showcases of pure, unadulterated skill were overshadowed by some of the worst digital effects I have ever seen. I fucking hate CGI blood because I think it is lazy. Fake blood is one of the easier effects to work with, so when a filmmaker opts for CGI blood gushing from every cut I grow to despise them a little more each time I see it. CGI blood never looks good, and with battles on the scale of Centurion (with blood flying literally in ever direction) you would think that such a big part of the film would have been done with at least a little bit of care. Instead what we got were these poorly lit, fluorescent flashes of red that took me out of the film’s immersion with every slash of a sword. Something else that the fight scenes highlighted was Centurions poor editing.
The fight scenes in Centurion were fun too look at (minus the CGI blood), but that was only when you could decipher what it was that you were looking at. The editing during these scenes is something I could only describe as confusing, and it took away from a lot of the beauty that could have been shown. The choreography looked good, but the cuts made every move look cheap. The effects (for the most part) were amazing, but every edit seemed like it was trying to hide the artistry. If I had worked on this film in any capacity and I saw the editor was seemingly trying to hide my work I would be pissed. It just made everything seem all the more amateur. And that was only during the fight scenes, the rest of the film is a whole different beast. One thing that kept happening in Centurion was the feeling that the film was leaving cliffhangers. Now these weren’t cliffhangers in the traditional sense where you want to know what’s going on, it was just weirdly placed cuts. A character would be talking and the way they end their sentence (their inflection or what have you) would seem to suggest that they were just starting to go on a huge rant, but then the film would cut to different scene. The first time this happened I was thinking to myself that this must be a flashback sequence and they will have the character narrating what is happening but that never happened. We did get some narration however, but it was also out of place. Throughout the entire film we had Quintus Dias relaying his thoughts to us via “exposition”-filled voiceovers. This was strange because what he was saying was rarely important, and it was all stuff that the film already inferred anyway. When a character screams angrily I don’t need a voiceover telling me that they are angry, I can kind of gather that. And to go along with this the performances in Centurion weren’t bad (they weren’t good enough to mention, but they weren’t bad), but it did seem like almost all of them were delivered with ADR. I don’t know if that was the case or if my ears were just playing tricks on me but this fact made this already strange movie seem even weirder. One thing I will give Centurion is the credits sequences (both opening and closing) were really cool. I loved the wonderful shots of the landscapes and I was glade to see that the camera was actually put to good use for once in this film’s production. I also really liked the film’s music, which oddly enough reminded me a lot of music that you would find in Game of Thrones. Come to think of it, there were quite a few similarities to Game of Thrones, including the sweeping opening credits sequence; even Ser Davos was there stabbing a bunch of dudes. I’m not suggesting any foul play took place, but I think somebody has some explaining to do.
Overall Centurion isn’t a bad movie, but I didn’t like it very much either. There is a lot to like, don’t get me wrong; the film has wonderful effects, a wonderful score, and a story that takes a while to get going but when it does it’s pretty fucking good, but there is also a lot to dislike. The story does take a while to get going and the beginning is pretty fucking terrible. Those great effects are masked by terrible use of CGI blood everywhere. For every positive thing I can say about Centurion there is a negative one waiting to counter. Really the movie is about a neutral as you can get.
I give Centurion a C