Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Last Legion (2007)

The legends of King Arthur are a popular topic for movies. They have everything you could ask for...idealism, individual heroes, a band of close companions, action, romance...including, one must admit, the lure of forbidden romance...rugged, masculine men and an era where things were perceived to be more cut and dried about what was good and what was evil.

Just a couple years after the disappointing King Arthur (2004) we have another venture into the realm of the Arthurian legends, this time a look at pre-Arthur in The Last Legion (2007).

It is somewhat ironic that the high-idealed Arthurian legend is framed as deriving from the ideals of the Roman Caesars, particularly Julius Caesar. He was a man who violated every principle of the Republic and turned Rome from an Empire that at least gave lip service to justice into the Imperialistic expansion machine noted throughout the known world for its cruelty. However, in The Last Legion those ideals sort of work.

There are three distinct sub-plots within the story. The first follows Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley) who is seeking both the mystical sword of Julius Caesar and the man who would wield it. His search led him to Rome where he takes on the role of teacher to future Caesar Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster).

Upon the ascension to Caesar of his young pupil Ambrosinus is ejected from Rome. However, after the fall of Rome he reappears to save the life of Romulus. Together they are imprisoned, rescued, and travel to Britannia where one final battle allows Ambrosinus to fulfill his goals...and much to the surprise of nobody paying attention, reveal himself to be Merlin.

The second story arc follows Aurelius (Colin Firth), a man with the heart and soul of the idealistic Rome imagined by writers Jez and Tom Butterworth. Recalled from front line duty to defend the Caesar, he proves himself early to be a man of honor. His moment of crisis comes when he is faced with betrayal by his best friend Nestor (John Hannah). Meanwhile, he finds love and a duty that allows him to find fulfillment in proving his worth and fidelity to the Roman ideal.

Naturally, the primary story arc is that of Romulus. This is a name replete with sub-text. Romulus and Remus were the names of the twins credited with the founding of Rome. Romulus was the more meaningful as he slew Remus in a battle over the honor of Rome and was hailed as the founder, indeed the most important figure in Roman history until the fall of the Republic when Julius Caesar took up the role of dictator instead of co-consul.

Romulus must learn to take responsibility, deal with the murder of his parents, and become a uniting force for the Dragon Legion of Britannia. Along the way he must learn to be self-sufficient at times and stay out of the way of better qualified people at others.

For the most part The Last Legion is beautifully acted. John Hannah is uncharacteristically cheesy, but otherwise you are quite able to lose yourself in this world. Everything makes sense and nothing stands out as not fitting.

The story draws you in, makes you care about the characters, both heroic and villains. You develop a stake in the outcome. The cinematography is beautiful with memorable locations and excellent shots.

And the movie takes a bold step, introducing us to Mira (Aishwarya Rai). Mira is no shrinking violet. She is quite possibly the most lethal, capable warrior in the entire film. This is a refreshing role. She is not mere eye candy or a seemingly capable fighter who inevitably needs the help of some male to rescuer. At one point in the final battle she tells Romulus to stay close to her and my immediate thought was, "That sounds like pretty good advice. That is about as well as he can be protected."

The movie leaves a natural opening for a sequel and leaves it open to each individuals interpretation as to whether the story Merlin related was true or a lie...a deliberate attempt by Merlin to create legend. The closing shot, however, provides a pretty clear clue which way they would like you to lean. Since it is a bit of a spoiler, I will leave it to you to discover when you watch the movie...a course of action I highly recommend.

If there is a criticism of the movie, I would say it was somewhat predictable. I anticipated several events which it appeared may have been designed as plot twists...the gender of the mysterious ally sent with Aurelius, the identity of Merlin, certain betrayals...but that is a minor quibble that in no way detracted from my enjoyment. This was time well spent.

1 comment:

Al said...

You need a rating system...come up with something and rate Last Legion at least if not the last 3 movie reviews...