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Evening Standard (Oct 18, 2007, by Derek Malcolm) - 2 stars
Television director Doug Lefler has bitten off more than he can chew with this action movie set during the last years of the Roman Empire. He lets a good cast wallow about in a story you can't believe for a moment, without providing them with lines that would make you forgive the doubtful history.
The last legion of the title is the 9th, whose duty was to defend Hadrian's Wall but who have now given up the uneven struggle against some frightful Britannic tyrant allied to the Goths. They are found by Colin Firth's Aurelius and encouraged to take up arms again to save the 12-year-old Emperor Romulus (Thomas Sangster) from a Goth-ridden Rome. A battle then ensues that looks rather less convincing than your average Rugby World Cup scrummage.
Firth is assisted by a Keralan fighter who looks very fetching in a leather breast shield, which is not surprising since she is played by Aishwarya Rai, the Indian superstar. There is also Ben Kingsley as a Welsh-accented shaman who is the young Emperor's teacher and helpmeet. Others in the cast include Peter Mullan as the Barbarian general Odoacer and Iain Glenn as Orestes, Romulus's father.
None of these actors can rise above a plot and script that is never sublime and frequently ridiculous. Nor can Lefler persuade us that he can marshal his forces with enough panache to give us a visual treat.
Remember Arthur? This is about on that level. It makes 300 look like the masterpiece its dedicated fans said it was.
|The Herald (Oct
18, 2007, by Alison Rowat) - **
A cut-price sword-and-sandals epic with legions of Scots actors on the payroll and Colin Firth in a breastplate. Based on the bestseller by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, it's a ripping yarn following the fortunes of the young Caesar (Thomas Sangster) and the last band of brothers—and one sister, Aishwarya Rai—trying to protect him from Goth hordes. Bollywood megastar Rai acquits herself well, bravely hanging on to her perfectly applied eyeshadow while all around are losing fake blood in the film's many stunt fights. Ben Kingsley wrestles with a woeful Welsh/Irish/Scots accent as the enigmatic Ambrosinus, philosopher and guide to the young emperor.
Couldn't swear to it, not being a scholar of Roman times, but the whole enterprise seemed about as historically on the money as the one of the three wise men giving the baby Jesus a Rubik's cube. Enough fighting and shouting to keep young ones entertained for a bit, though.
(Oct 15, 2007, by Anna Smith)
Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley lead a strong cast in The Last Legion, a fantasy adventure about Caesar's offspring fleeing Rome for British shores....Fitfully enjoyable action mixes with consistently cheesy dialogue, in a rambling throwback that becomes less compelling as it moves further from history and closer to fantasy and over-familiar legend.
Colin Firth may be marvellous at playing bumbling Brits, but he's the wrong man for the job as a rugged Roman general fending off warriors and romancing exotic maidens. Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai is slightly better cast as the leading exotic maiden, Mira, a feisty swordswoman who gets Aurelius out of a few tight spots. There's some suspense as they launch a rescue mission on the island of Capri, and the odd decent tussle as they escape the rebels to whisk Romulus Augustus off to Britain in search of their only hope: the last legion of soldiers they can count as allies.
But paper-thin characters, stilted conversations and abrupt editing mean this is hard to get involved with, and its link with Arthurian legend feels contrived and clichéd. As background viewing, The Last Legion is appealingly retro in a sleepy TV Sunday sort of way. But it's hard to think of a reason to shell out for a cinema ticket for something that feels far more suited to the small screen.
(Aug 17, 2007, by James Berardinelli) - 2 out of 5 stars
While it's impossible to assert that The Last Legion is entirely undone by budgetary constraints—bad scripting and odd casting choices play a part as well—it's a good bet that the movie could have been better had more money been spent on the production. At times, the movie looks inexcusably bad, with CGI that wouldn't pass muster for a computer game and a climactic battle scene that resembles something staged by a small band of undirected extras playing on unconvincing sets. When a movie wants to be sold as a spectacle, it had better deliver something more spectacular than this.
One suspects that historians and Arthurian scholars will have a collective apoplexy at how The Last Legion treats both fact and myth. The story starts out in Rome and ends up at Hadrian's Wall and somehow manages to tie all sorts of improbable things together. The movie is reminiscent of Antwoine Fuqua's King Arthur in that it seeks to present the "truth" behind the legend. It's no more credible or successful, although I'm grudgingly forced to admit that The Last Legion is at least more entertaining. [...]
The Last Legion can at least claim a moderately enjoyable first hour, although things rapidly fall apart once the story moves to Britannia. TV director Doug Lefler, making his motion picture debut, appears to be in over his head. The endgame is dull due to the lack of imagination evident in the choreography of the final battle and the way that each recognizable character must end up in a one-on-one battle with their approximate opposite. This means that the main hero, Aurelius, is placed against Wulfila in a contest that could only be described as uninspired. An obligatory romance between Aurelius and Mira is equally tepid. Aishwarya Rai directs plenty of meaningful glances at her co-star but Colin Firth fails to respond.
Firth is horribly miscast. I'll buy him as a romantic lead or the main character in a drama, but he's almost laughable as an action hero. It's Mr. Darcy with a sword. Kevin McKidd overacts to his heart's content, trying to prove that he's the most badass barbarian in the West. Aishwarya Rai has enough moves to be convincing as a warrior woman, although I admit I may have been distracted by some of her less combat-oriented charms. There's a temptation to be surprised by Ben Kingsley's presence until one remembers a few things about the man. Sir Ben is a great actor but he has shown repeatedly that, if the price is right, he'll appear in just about anything. (For anyone who doubts me, I have one word: Thunderbirds.)
The film's barely existent marketing is trying to sell this movie to the huge fan base of 300, but anyone who goes into The Last Legion expecting anything remotely similar is going to be disappointed. 300 was a big budget adrenaline and testosterone overdose. The Last Legion looks like it was made using the money collected from the director's paper route, has barely enough adrenaline to avoid being declared DOA, and exhibits so little testosterone that the term "eunuch" comes to mind. The Last Legion isn't the worst movie to be released this August but it's not a motion picture I would run out to spend money on. At least when this is shown on television, the magnitude of the production will match the dimensions of the picture.
Times (Aug 20, 2007, by Neil Genzlinger)
“The Last Legion,” a sword-and-sandal spectacle from those epic-loving De Laurentiises, invokes a lot of better movies on its circuitous trip from the Roman empire to the Arthurian legend, but it doesn’t do the one bit of borrowing that could have made this journey enjoyable.
The film, in which a handful of loyal warriors try to protect a youngster who is the last Roman emperor, has beloved images and gimmicks that suggest “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” even “Planet of the Apes.” But, alas, the ragtag band doesn’t have any of the lovable insolence of, say, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Its few attempts at humorous camaraderie fall flat, leaving you wondering why this grim group wants to keep living at all.
It all starts with the boy: Thomas Sangster as Romulus, a 12-year-old with the blood of Caesar in his veins. This dour child wouldn’t inspire anyone’s protective instincts, and he doesn’t exactly show signs of greatness. In the climactic battle he stands by idiotically while his chief protector (Colin Firth) is beaten nearly to death by a nasty Goth, then he intervenes with his magic sword.
Aishwarya Rai isn’t even worth a spoiler alert, so obvious is her surprise emergence from beneath armor as the Firth character’s mysterious sidekick. Yes, she’s a she, and no, her martial-arts-style fighting abilities aren’t very convincing as filmed by Doug Lefler, the director. Ben Kingsley does an Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation as a mystical fighter turned teacher who fills Romulus’s head with airy advice.
Dino De Laurentiis gets a presenter’s credit, and his wife, Martha, and daughter Raffaella are producers, so the grand ambitions here are understandable. And misplaced. This might have made a good children’s film.
|LA Times (Aug 20,
2007. by John Anderson)
The swords-and-sandals epic set during the empire's fall is out for some overblown fun.
Toss a little Arthurian legend, some J.R.R. Tolkien, a few stalks of "I, Claudius" and some sliced "Star Wars" in a vegetable spinner and you get the Caesar salad of "The Last Legion," whose cast is almost distractingly rich (and thick) and whose sense of history is, shall we say, convenient to the narrative. Like "Harry Potter" (whose influence also rears its scarred little head amid the armor and arrows) this overblown swords-and-sandals epic is not as bad as it sounds nor as good as it might have been.
It's AD 460, and the Roman Empire is about to fall. Giving it a little push are Odoacer (a ferocious Peter Mullan) and his army of slavering, unwashed Goths, who sack Rome with the kind of lusty enthusiasm that we haven't seen since the iPhone went on sale. What they want, presumably, besides gold and territory, is Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), the last Caesar and a beardless boy of elfin looks and precocious wisdom. O, if only this lad could lead the once-mighty empire back to its place of glory! Where civilized citizens with British accents could use big words in peace! But no: The Goths really do take charge, and Romulus—crowned the new Caesar—has to take it on the lam.
As testament to the globalization promoted by earlier Caesars, the cast is a melange of dubious Italians, Scots and one saucy south Indian warrior, who under her mask turns out to be the beautiful Mira (Aishwarya Rai), a get-down grrrl who impresses Romulus' protector, Aurelius (Colin Firth), in more ways than one. Together—and in company with an old wizard who looks a lot like Ben Kingsley (Ben Kingsley)—they travel to Britain to find the lost 9th Legion of the Caesars' once-vast armies and take up the sword against evildoers who are oppressing the last outpost of Roman rule.
The scope of the film is huge and sprawling, even though the computerized enhancement of landscapes and human masses are usually pretty obvious. Firth, who has been relegated to playing the profoundly uptight in comedies like "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Nanny McPhee," shows he has the stuff to swashbuckle. Rai may be, along with Jennifer Connelly and Zhang Ziyi, one of the three most beautiful actresses in film. Kingsley, kissing the ground of "sweet Brittania" upon his arrival there, is having his fun, and there's a lot to go around.
Nothing, however, is to be taken seriously, not the story, not the acting and certainly not the history.
|NY Daily News
(Aug 18, 2007, by Jack Matthews) - 1 star
The $70 million "Last Legion" is a soft-porn version of a sword-and-sandal epic. Though many people are rent with knives, arrows, axes, swords and spears, we are spared images of actual penetration.
Whether this was intended to win a PG-13 rating, or the filmmakers didn't have enough money left after paying their excellent cast to afford quality special effects, it makes the action scenes look about as authentic as the sword-fighting skeletons in "Jason and the Argonauts."
"The Last Legion" opened Friday without advance screenings for nitpicking critics. It stars Colin Firth as Aurelius, the Roman general assigned to protect Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), the newly crowned child emperor of Rome. We also find Ben Kingsley as the emperor's ponytailed teacher Ambrosinus, and Indian beauty Aishwarya Rai as Mira, an exotic warrior who joins Aurelius' ragtag army in a campaign to reclaim Rome from Goth overreacher Odoacer (Peter Mullan).
Based partly on a very bad Italian novel, "The Last Legion" fobs itself off as a prequel to the legend of King Arthur. The story turns on the discovery of the Sword of Caesar, which belongs "to the hand that rules." One look at the inscription on this shiny blade and you know it is—or will become—Excalibur.
That means Romulus, now ruling from Britannia, will grow up to father Arthur, while Ambrosinus will change his name to Merlin. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before one legend can hand off to the next, there are armies to fight, battles to be won, a romance between Aurelius and Mira to gestate, and an evil masked man named Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum) to defeat.
"The Last Legion" is one of those big-spending, star-studded international disasters that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon used to bankroll. I have too much respect for Kingsley and Firth to believe they did this for anything other than the money, and to their credit, they give their best efforts.
But they are doomed by the ridiculous script and the deadly direction of veteran art director Doug Lefler. And though Rai may be the most beautiful woman in the world, as some have claimed (I'll go with Michelle Pfeiffer), she's no actress.
(Aug 18, 2007, by Wesley Morris)
Poor Colin Firth. He spends most of "The Last Legion" in a state of absolute blah. I'm not arguing that the movie, one of those combat-heavy costume contraptions, should be anything to put a smile on his face. But even when he's staring into Aishwarya Rai's cleavage, as he occasionally does, he looks like he'd rather be home darning a sock. In his defense, he probably could have seen a gorgeous mannequin anywhere.
Firth plays Aurelius, the glorified security guard for young Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), whom the movie casts as a descendant of Julius Caesar and the future ruler of a kingdom-to-be-determined. You see, the Goths have just sacked Rome and run off with Romulus. So Aurelius and his tiny band of brawlers, including Rai as an unreasonably lusty Indian warrior named Mira, head off to rescue him. Fight sequences and even blander expository dialogue ensue. But why? Most people paying to see this movie have done so for the action scenes, and, my, have these been carelessly mounted and edited. One early siege against the Romans features a bunch of anonymous bodies pushing into each other by torchlight. It's hard to care who's who.
"Last Legion" generically enters the rarely explored crevice between the fall of Rome and the enchanted era of King Arthur (everybody here wants the sword that will be Excalibur). The movie rarely feels fresh. Even an absurd cage-match like "300" cared enough to be both rousing and handsome. There's no fun to be had here.
For one thing, too many very good UK actors have shapeless parts. Peter Mullan does get to characteristically ham it up it once or twice. Actually, the fewer scenes an actor has in "Last Legion" the more he tries to eat them. This may explain Firth's indifference. He'd have too much to chew. And Rai's excuse must be dietary. Scene-eating might be fattening, and who needs the carbs? However, she does throw cutlery and flirt with conviction ("Is that all you see me as: a warrior?").
Ben Kingsley, playing Romulus's intellectual guide, paces himself. He's acted in far worse films with far worse hair. And while it'd be a stretch to say he's enjoying himself, he seems to know how to pass the time, keeping whatever resentment he may have to himself.
That no one screened "Last Legion" for critics seems like a carryover from the apparent boredom driving the action. The film is nothing to be ashamed of (especially if you're Kingsley). But it's as if everybody involved knows what the deal is: It's August. We shouldn't be at this movie; we should be stuck at the airport or off buying school supplies.
Hollywood Reporter (Aug 20, 2007, by Frank Scheck)
Whether or not you appreciated the graphic comic book aesthetic of "300," there's no doubt that it took a fresh approach to the swords-and-sandals adventure genre. Such is not the case with "The Last Legion," which opened Friday without being screened for the press.
A lackluster and decidedly old-fashioned (in the worst way) attempt that is hardly likely to ride the wave of "300's" success at the boxoffice, the film probably will reach the video store shelves in record time.
The story is a fanciful adventure set in the final days of the Roman Empire, centering on young Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster). When his parents are murdered by evil barbarians led by Odoacer (a hirsute Peter Mullan) and he is taken captive, the loyal Aurelius (Colin Firth) sets off to rescue him, accompanied by his small band of legionnaires. Along the way, he finds an unlikely ally, and romantic interest, in the form of the beautiful warrior Mira (the ravishing Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai).
The inevitable series of elaborately choreographed battles, both intimate and large-scale, ensue, though the film's low budget and PG-13 rating prevent them from being either spectacular or particularly bloody. Indeed, in both in the fight and love scenes, the camera has a constant tendency to turn away from the action like a shrinking violet.
This being a story of ancient Rome, nearly the entire cast is naturally made up of British actors, including such talents as Kevin McKidd, John Hannah and Iain Glen, none of whom makes much of an impression. Coming off worst is Ben Kingsley, who plays the young boy's magical mentor with an affectionate regard for himself that is not transmitted to the viewer.
Poorly written, perfunctory in its execution and labored in its attempts at "Three Stooges"-style physical shtick comedy, "Last Legion" doesn't succeed on any level, least of all in its hapless attempt to craft itself as a sort of surprise prequel to "Excalibur."
Bottom Line: We can only hope that the title of this misbegotten swords-and-sandals adventure is prophetic.
(Aug 17, 2007, by Colin Covert) - 2-1/2 out of 4 stars
An old-school sword-and-sandal spectacle on an almost-epic scale, "The Last Legion" is such a square and diligent piece of entertainment that it put me in a nostalgic mood for the honest B-pictures they don't make anymore.
It boasts tumultuous battle scenes with real stuntmen rather than CGI effects, real locations, a story line as straight and true as a lance with no postmodern ironies, and an expert cast that, even in paycheck roles, delivers honest work before cashing the check.
The film is set at the fall of Rome, with Colin Firth as a general entrusted with smuggling young emperor Thomas Sangster past the plundering hordes. Ben Kingsley, the boy's mentor, accompanies them, telling tales of an enchanted sword that will enable them to beat back the marauding invaders.
Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai lends a hand as a warrior maiden who tests Firth's manly reserve and provides the springboard for some mildly risque innuendo. Pursued by bloodthirsty Goths, the crew travel to Brittania to rally a far-flung Roman brigade to fight for the crumbling empire. When they arrive, they find the legion has gone native, and an old enemy of Kingsley's, now a powerful warlord, attacks them on a second front.
The actors are admirably sincere and committed in roles that could have deteriorated into hamminess. Firth is topnotch as the noble soldier, and his brawling fight scenes are considerably tougher than his scraps with Hugh Grant in the "Bridget Jones" films. His natural comic instincts come into play now and again to excellent effect. When a brigade of warriors attack, he shrugs, "Not as many as I expected," neatly straddling the line between macho boastfulness and an admission that this film couldn't afford to hire the entire Screen Extras Guild.
Kingsley, in flowing robes and hair, seems to be enjoying a role that lets him fight like Gandalf and instruct like Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Sangster (who carries over the rapport he demonstrated with Firth in 2005's "Nanny McPhee"), is one of those young actors with a sense of craft that belies his years.
The fights are neatly constructed pieces that build tension and look good, especially those that show the lissome Rai mowing down hulking berserkers six at a time. There's none of the arterial spray of "300" or "Gladiator" in these rumbles, but haven't we seen enough of that? Put yourself in the proper boy's-adventure mindset and "The Last Legion's" corny moments will just add to the charm.
|Variety (Aug 17,
2007, by Joe Leydon)
"The Last Legion" isn't half bad, but you'd never know that from its half-hearted promotional campaign. The cheesy-looking TV spots, lobby posters and newspaper ads appear to promise a low-rent "300"—a Wal-Mart special, perhaps, reduced to "125." At its infrequent best, however, this ungainly international co-production more closely resembles an old-fashioned Saturday matinee action-adventure. Pic is seriously hampered by glaring inconsistencies of tone and intent, and often feels like a series of highlights carved out of a much longer epic. But cable and homevid viewers might enjoy the fitfully rousing hodgepodge after it completes a token theatrical run.[plot summary deleted]
The chief problem with "The Last Legion" stems from the filmmakers' apparent inability to decide what kind of pic they wanted to make, and what sort of audience they wanted to target. There are echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island," suggesting that helmer Doug Lefler and his collaborators may have envisioned purposefully retro, family-friendly fare. (Another indication: Violent scenes obviously have been tweaked to remove detailed depictions of carnage.)
In a handful of other scenes, however, there are hints of tongue-in-cheek send-up, particularly whenever Firth laces his straight-faced heroics with a smidgen of "Indiana Jones"-style jokiness. These modestly clever touches are a welcome contrast to the inadvertently comical scenes where characters posture and pontificate in the stilted manner of standard sword-and-sandal (or sword-and-sorcery) B-pics and TV dramas.
As Ambrosinus, a cryptic sage who serves as Yoda to Romulus' Luke Skywalker, Kingsley must deliver most of the faux profundities that litter the script. He also has to impose some sense of consistency on a character whose abilities are never entirely clear: During a climactic battle, Ambrosinus is able to toss—goodness gracious!—great balls of fire. But the sudden display of this convenient talent likely will make some viewers wonder why he couldn't have used it earlier.
It doesn't help that "The Last Legion," filmed on locations in Tunisia and Slovakia, boasts production values that reflect a severely limited budget. On the other hand, Sangster makes an engagingly plucky impression, Firth does the derring-do with self-assured grace, Rai is extremely easy on the eyes and Kingsley is, despite the aforementioned obstacles, effortlessly authoritative. The fight scenes are sufficiently exciting, and the pic overall is just good enough to make you wish it were a lot better.
|The Detroit Free Press
(Aug 17, 2007, by John Monaghan)
When outnumbered ten-to-one by a band a bloodthirsty Goths, it’s nice to have a guy like Colin Firth on your side. Hardened with age but still matinee handsome, the British actor’s Aurelias brings depth to the epic silliness of "The Last Legion."
The goal here is to protect young Romulus Augustus Caesar (Thomas Sangster), the last in a long line of Roman emperors. It’s on the very day that the boy ascends the throne that the Goths arrive, asking for his head in return for not sacking Rome. With his noncompliant mother and father skewered by the invaders, the little Caesar escapes with the help of Aurelias and his men.
But wait, they’re not all men after all. As if you didn’t guess already, that warrior on horseback, identity hidden behind a face-full of chain mail, is actually the green-eyed Mira (Aishwarya Rai). Though she hails from India, she apparently picked up her battle moves at the Hong Kong video store.
For the next 90 minutes, the movie serves up a series of close calls and rousing fight scenes, capped by the Goth’s siege on British and Italian troops in a sort of fifth-century Alamo. The movie also provides the origin of Excalibur, which would be giving something special away if this fact wasn’t revealed in all of the film’s advertising.
As legendary swords go, this Excalibur is a piece of work. Forged from a meteor, its edge tempered in the blood of a lion, it is discovered by Caesar after he falls through the floor of his island prison at Capri. Key protector of the sword is the boy’s teacher, a wise man (Ben Kingsley) that eventually becomes a famous sorcerer. Hint: his name rhymes with Berlin.
Actually, the name sort of rhymes the same way that "The Last Legion" is sort of a good film. The movie boasts decent production values (a reported $70 million), including tons of CGI. Rather than overpower it, these effects serve the story well, which is at times delightfully old-fashioned and better acted than it deserves to be.
Firth is especially good at tapping the Russell Crowe intensity, not so much in the clumsy attempts at humor and romance offered by director Doug Lefler, who cut his teeth working for Sam Raimi on "Army of Darkness" and even helmed a couple of "Xena" episodes. Neither he nor screenwriters Jez and Tom Butterworth can decide if they want to be "300" or a corny, 1950s sword-and-sandal epic.
Ultimately, "The Last Legion" isn’t horrible, certainly not bad enough to keep it away from critics, which its distributors have unfortunately done. Scene-for-scene, it’s far more fun than most of the Hollywood-approved action blockbusters released so far this year.
|Sun (Aug 17, 2007,
by Bruce Kirkland) - 2-1/2 out of 5 stars
In another era, in the age of matinee movies and dashing Hollywood idols, The Last Legion might have cut a better figure. But not now, not with Colin Firth instead of the likes of Errol Flynn in the lead role as the swashbuckling hero. And not with the bloodless battle scenes that seem so fake. And not with the outlandish story that combines myths about the Roman Empire with the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur. The real problem is that The Last Legion is just too boring.
Firth, despite being one of Britain's true leading men and a fine actor, doesn't have the gusto or the spirit to turn this flick into the kind of comedy-adventure it so desperately wants to be. A weary-looking Firth plays an aging Roman soldier who, "to the last breath," must protect the new boy Caesar, Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), from assassins. This is after the overthrow of Rome by the Goths in the 5th century.
The politics of the film would have us believe the Roman soldiers are the heroic, noble democrats (which is nonsense, of course) and other tribes of people are barbarians, except some of the Britons. Hey, it's a superficial movie, not a documentary or a history lesson.
In any case, the quest takes Firth from a prison in Capri to the wilds of ancient Britain. Along the way, he earns the respect of the youth, the help of a sorcerer (Ben Kingsley), the wrath of an enemy (Peter Mullan) and the love of a south Asian warrior princess (Aishwarya Rai). Rai, a Bollywood superstar, is unbelievably beautiful. She is also impressive in making us think she has Michelle Yeoh-style sword skills (although it is difficult to know how much is her and how much a stunt double). Strangely, she and Firth have zero sexual chemistry, even on a rudimentary flirtation level.
Oddly enough, there is no "chemistry" in the battle scenes, either. And not just because the filmmakers took the super-safe route in the staging and editing. Thousands of people "die" on-screen but rarely is any blood shed, as if a man's life has no meaning in such a PG spectacle.
I'm not saying that The Last Legion needs to be as graphic as, for example, the Spartan movie 300. But there really should be a price to be paid visually for the death of a person in a battle scene. There should be consequences. Otherwise, you are left feeling that the battles were just re-enactments.
On a grand scale, The Last Legion looks pretty enough, especially in the sequences set in Britain along Hadrian's Wall (although the movie was actually shot in Slovakia and Tunisia). But American director Doug Lefler does not have artistic panache, despite going to art school with Tim Burton, John Lasseter and Brad Bird. He did spend years in movie art departments and graduated to directing through the television show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, going on to direct episodes of Babylon 5, Mortal Kombat: Conquest and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Obviously, those are not the roots of a thrilling movie career. The Last Legion, a co-production of the U.S., the U.K. and France, demonstrates he is a pedestrian hack at this point in his career. Also obviously, Lefler openly pays homage (or steals) scenes from other movies, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Arthur, Gladiator and others. But that is to be expected in a second-rate movie like this one.
What is unforgivable is boring us into a stupor.
|National Post (Aug
16, 2007, by Jay Stone) - 2 stars
When Colin Firth first appears in the boldly dopey epic The Last Legion, all dressed up in his leather Roman Legion vest and matching skirt, one is tempted to wonder what Mr. Darcy is doing in such appalling circumstances. Firth, who carries with him the genteel attitude of a Jane Austen hero in most of his film projects, seems fatally miscast as Aurelius, personal bodyguard to the emperor, albeit one with a twinkle in his eye. Aurelius looks like a job for Steve Reeves, or, failing him, The Rock.
It turns out, though, that The Last Legion is after something that only a performer with Firth's upper-class tones can provide. This isn't your ordinary sand-and-sandals epic: this is a legend. Several legends, in fact—including that of King Arthur—all mixed up together into one fabulous adventure. I dare you to watch it sober.
The Last Legion tells the story of Romulus Augustus (young Thomas Sangster, so good in Love, Actually), the boy emperor of Rome, who is kidnapped by some nasty Goths, the nastiest of whom is Odoacer (Peter Mullan), who stops sneering only to growl or, occasionally, spit.
That sends Aurelius and his soldiers on a trip to Capri to rescue the boy, and then onward to Britannia, where the last Roman legion has been encamped and practically forgotten for years. If everyone can just get there, there's a fair chance of doing something, although I must admit I'm not sure exactly what it was. Defeat the Goths, perhaps, or evade them, or maybe just get the heck out of Italy for a while.
This bare-bones plot summary hardly does justice to The Last Legion, however, which is filled with delights. Told as a family-friendly adventure (i.e. large battles with no blood), it brings in a host of secondary characters to enjoy. These include Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), a philosopher-cum-sorcerer who is the young emperor's guardian and also something of a phrasemaker.
"Take care in the mists. It may hide what the gods themselves dare not look upon," he will say, pretty much at random, seeing as how there are no mists in The Last Legion. Nevertheless he inspires other characters to say things like, "Perhaps the boy is more use to us alive than dead," a line we always enjoy.
The best part of Aurelius's gang, however, is a mysterious Byzantine warrior who wears a full armour that, when removed, reveals that the character is a woman. And what a woman. She's played by Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World who probably said at one point that she wants world peace.
Mira, as she is called, is a fifth-century ninja, a whirling dervish of swordplay and martial arts who is a Goth's worst nightmare (just before tattoo removal) and one sexy Byzantine to boot.
Once the characters are all established, it becomes clear that The Last Legion was directed (by Doug Lefler, who also made the Dragonheart movies) with just a little less money than needed. For instance, while Aurelius flees to Britannia with Odoacer hot on his heels, the chase is visualized by showing a few people walking through snow while an ancient map is overlaid on the scene.
Once they all get to Britannia, there are further treats in store. "Who could have done this?," asks Firth, stumbling into a village of dead people. "Only one man," replies Kingsley. "His name is Vortgyn." It sounds Swedish—or perhaps Monty Python Swedish—but he's actually the King of the Anglians who wears a gold mask that covers an even worse complexion than the Goths. Sneering, it becomes clear, is bad for the skin.
This all comes to down to an epic final battle involving the remnants of the legion, Ambrosinus (the Gandalf of the story) and a cast of, well, many. It's small scale as far as epic final battles go, but we get the point. Legends are being written here. Magic is being made. It's nice that Mr. Darcy is around to see it.
|Toronto Star (Aug
17, 2007, by Geoff Pevere) - *1/2 (out of 4)
There's a modestly amusing mid-'50s vibe at work in the straight-ahead sword-and-sandal adventure The Last Legion, and it's likely to work most effectively on viewers either old enough to remember Tyrone Power or too young to care. Anyone in between is in for something of a late-summer snooze.
It's set in fifth-century A.D., when Rome is overrun by Scottish-accented Goths led by the formidably mean and hairy Peter Mullan.
The movie (directed gamely by the Xena and Hercules TV-show veteran Doug Lefler) follows the attempt to rescue the orphaned boy-emperor Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster) by a puffy-lidded, sleep-deprived centurion named Aurelius (Colin Firth) and his staggeringly gorgeous but theatrically challenged Bollywood-refugee sidekick named Mira (Aishwarya Rai).
When heaving the unpleasant Goths to their deaths from the heights of sun-dappled Mediterranean cliffs, or when expressing justifiable disbelief at magician Ben Kingsley's joke-shop facial hair, these two are pleasant enough company—like bored tour guides doing the morning shift at a low-rent theme park. But leave them to anything more reflective than that—like talking, thinking or pretending to fall in love—and they look as disengaged and uninspired as many of us likely are. Indeed, when the abject-looking Firth heads for the cliffs at the sight of yet another surge of grunting Goths, you half expect him to disappear over the horizon and hop the nearest ferry back to England.
In The Last Legion, Rome doesn't fall. But it does look like it would rather be lying down and taking a nap.
Mail (Aug 16, 2007, by Liam Lacey) - *1/2
Acting, as we're occasionally reminded, isn't just a career leading to fame and wealth but also a job for hire. There's no other easy way to explain the surfeit of acting talent that appears in the distinctly humdrum The Last Legion, a boy's adventure story that seems to have been dragged out of the vaults of some early-sixties TV series.
Created by Dino De Laurentiis's production company, and directed by Doug Lefler (a storyboard artist and second-unit director on Sam Raimi's Spiderman), The Last Legion belongs to a level of production that is down-market by post-Lord of the Rings standards.
Even with a reported budget in the $70-million (U.S.) range, the financial limitations show in the action sequences, at once bloated with CGI effects on the large scale and transparently choreographed in close-up action.
The cast includes Colin Firth, looking uncomfortable as a Roman general; Ben Kingsley, hamming it up as a Merlin-like magician; and Peter Mullan as a growling Goth king with a Scottish burr. To add some lustre, there's the beautiful Indian actress Aishwarya Rai (Bride and Prejudice) as a female warrior. All are given swords to swing and mouthfuls of fake archaic dialogue to speak and none of it makes a whisper of sense.
Based on a 2003 Italian novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, The Last Legion posits a strained link between the boy who was the last Roman emperor and British accounts of the origins of the legendary King Arthur.
Our story begins shortly before the sack of Rome, as the barbarian king Odoacer (Mullan) takes the deposed Caesar, Romulus (Thomas Sangster) prisoner on the island fortress of Capri. Along with him is his tutor, a magician and philosopher named Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), sporting a white wig.
While on Capri, Romulus finds the future King Arthur's mythical sword, Excalibur, apparently left there by Julius Caesar, of all people.
The young Caesar gets rescued by General Aurelius (Colin Firth), accompanied by the Indian warrior Mira (Rai), who makes her entrance, wet and pretty, from the Gulf of Naples. Her entrance evokes Botticelli's Venus, or, for that matter, Colin Firth in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.
For fans of Asian martial arts who may have wandered into the wrong theatre, Mira fights with a multibladed sword and jiu-jitsu moves. Each time she dispatches her enemies, she freezes for a moment as if posing for a photo-op. As well, she engages the stoical Aurelius in flirty banter and they test each other's openings in mock sword fighting, as a rehearsal for further intimacies.
The young Caesar and his entourage head for England, the outpost of the empire. The titular last Roman legion is now in tatters and mingled with the local populace, who are oppressed by a mysterious warlord, named Vortgyn, in a gold mask. (The character appears to be based on Vortigern, a figure in Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudo-historical History of the Kings of Britain).
Because of the script's slapdash mixture of history, legend and incoherent invention, the showdown becomes pointless.
Who, exactly, is slaughtering whom? Are the enemies a local resistance movement or invading oppressors? If the script were a lot smarter, you might imagine the conflict to be a metaphor for Britain's involvement in Iraq—the last stand of the Empire against the local lawless colonials. Instead, it has all the nobility of a soccer hooligans' rumble.
If you really must have an enemy of unalloyed evil, how much easier it is to paint them blue, call them Orcs and slaughter them en masse.
|HP/De Tijd (Aug 3,
2007, by Erik Spaans and translated from the Dutch by Doortje)
Clang of arms: Colin Firth is mainly known from ‘Bridget Jones’. In ‘The Last Legion’ he tries something completely different.
British actor Colin Firth was born into a family of schoolteachers and missionaries, and that’s how he comes across: civilized, well-spoken, a little shy. In the early nineties Firth made a name for himself with strong, dramatic roles in films that had little commercial success (Valmont, Apartment Zero, Wings of Fame). He seemed destined for a life as a character actor, when fame took him completely by surprise in 1995 because of the television series Pride and Prejudice. In this costume drama (based on the novel by Jane Austen) he played the male lead. The amorous feints from the both sensitive and haughty Mr Darcy struck a sensitive chord with many female viewers and the series became a huge success. Much to his own amazement, Firth found himself a firm candidate for the title ‘most attractive man of the year’.
One of his admirers was a certain Helen Fielding, a journalist who had just started a series of columns in The Independent under the pseudonym Bridget Jones. She modelled one of her characters on Firth and, as an in-joke, gave him the name Mark Darcy. When made into book form, Bridget Jones’s musings became a bestseller and when the time came for a movie, there was of course only one candidate for the role of Mark Darcy. It has to be said: Firth gave an excellent performance. The scene around Christmas where he is visibly uncomfortable and embarrassed wearing the reindeer sweater his mother gave him, is a masterly piece of underacting. That Firth was condemned to making romcoms did not seem to bother him. In Love Actually he shone once more by declaring his love in bungling Portuguese to the waitress in a packed restaurant. The scene was both hilarious and moving. Not everyone can do that.
And now we have The Last Legion. In it, Firth plays a fearless Roman officer who beats off frightful looking opponents without batting an eyelid.
Please take your time to process this information.
Colin Firth as man-at-arms.
He is, to put it mildly, not the most obvious choice for such a role. Admittedly, in Bridget Jones he fought admirably with Hugh Grant. But Grant is a considerably less bloodthirsty adversary than the armed to the teeth horde of Goths Firth faces in The Last Legion.
Perhaps he grew sick of having to put in an appearance in yet another romantic comedy and wanted to prove himself in a role that for once he seemed not cut out for. And why shouldn’t he? Good actors try to avoid being typecast. Tom Hanks for instance is not the most obvious lead in a tough war movie. Yet he was very convincing in Saving Private Ryan. Can Firth do the same in his role as Aurelius, the guard entrusted with the protection of the youthful emperor Romulus?
No, to be honest. It’s not easy getting used to seeing Firth fight in a melee of warriors, which is, after all, one of his main tasks in this movie. First in Rome, where Romulus is captured by the Goths in 470 (AD), then on the island of Capri, where Aurelius and his companions have come to free the emperor, and finally in Britain, where they go in search of the legion that must restore Romulus to the throne. In Firth’s defence, it must be said that he takes his part more seriously than fellow actors Ben Kingsley and Kevin McKidd, who, as the wise counsellor and the unwashed barbarian, respectively, ham it up like there’s no tomorrow. And during the heat of the battle, the Indian movie star Aishwarya Rai even manages to look like she’s starring in a commercial for dairy products that improve the digestive system.
Seen from that perspective, Firth holds his own quite well. The problem with his role is rather that the story is very difficult to take seriously. The Last Legion is a popcorn movie, a piece of fluff. Gladiator meets Harry Potter, so to speak. There’s much clang of arms and impressive looking barbarians in bear skins. And, oh yes, they are also looking for a magical sword. It’s that kind of movie; quite enjoyable in its way. Well, I wasn’t bored. But I’ve already forgotten the subject of the rousing speech given by the Roman commander (played by Firth) during the dramatic climax.
|Preview (by Phil van Tongeren and translated from
In 475 AD twelve-year-old Romulus Augustulus was crowned emperor. A year later the Germanic tribes conquered Rome and the new ruler was robbed of his crown and banned to the island Capri. History doesn’t mention any heroic rescue attempts by a band of faithful followers, but in The Last Legion the lad spectacularly escapes from his place of exile, as only adventure movies would have it. If only for the unlikely troop of rescuers, consisting of a tough Roman officer (Colin Firth), a Gandalf-like magician (Ben Kingsley), a stunningly beautiful female Indian warrior (Aishwarya Rai) and some other colourful foot soldiers.
The movie, based on an Italian novel, makes no claim to historical accuracy. It combines a heavily romanticised incident from the last days of the Roman Empire with the legend of the sword Excalibur and mixes these ingredients into a fairly amusing piece of family entertainment. Expect Eragon without a dragon or Crusade in Jeans without the time machine, rather than Gladiator or Troy. Together with the heroes we travel past spectacular scenery, to which the computer has added some picturesque castles and temples, and end the journey at Hadrian’s Wall, where Romulus and his entourage must fight a final battle with both their Germanic pursuers and a masked local warlord who makes the farmer’s lives a misery.
The Last Legion is an international co-production with the signature of the producers, rather than the director. His name is Doug Lefler, a former storyboard artist and (second unit) director from the stable of Spider Man director Sam Raimi, whose visual flair Lefler lacks in every respect. Or maybe it was curbed by the producers. Because The Last Legion seems to be aimed at happy families who otherwise might get scared out of the movie theatre by weird scenes, overly brutal violence and steaming eroticism. If, however, you accept the something-for-everyone-formula, then the movie delivers exactly what it promises: a brooding hero (Firth) for mother, clashing swords for the kids and a wet T-shirt moment (Rai – nipple free of course), for dad.
& DVD Magazine (by James O'Ehley)
Once you accept The Last Legion for what it is, namely a Saturday adventure matinee show aimed at impressionable 10-year-old boys, then you'll have a passable time at the cinema . . . Sort of.
As long as you're not expecting Gladiator (rather think those Steve Reeves sandal epics of yesteryear) then you'll be reasonably entertained by this adventure “epic”—and as long as you have a healthy sense of irony about you.
Set in Roman times in which the Goths overrun Rome and a small band of loyal soldiers must protect the child Emperor young Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), the film boasts “international stars” such as Colin Firth (Bridget Jones), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) and Bollywood megastar Aishwarya Rai last seen in Mistress of Spices.
Rai can't act at all, but it is fun to see her try at being an Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft style bad ass action heroine. (She's of course gorgeous to simply gawp at.) Kingsley—in laughable fake beard—is in “take the cheque and run” mode while Firth . . . well, Firth is as mediocre as the movie he's in, but there's a reason why Firth never made it to the A-list of Hollywood leading men.
While there is something low rent and cheesy about The Last Legion, the film's production values at least isn't of bottom-of-the-barrel straight-to-video quality. Instead the film's photography, special effects, costumes, scenery, soundtrack music, etc. don't come across as a complete waste of celluloid. In fact there are some decent locations (the best scenery is a Mediterranean island that serves as the setting for the film's best action sequence involving a daring rescue) and the CGI could have been a whole lot worse to be honest.
The film's other tangibles don't come off too well. The screenplay is tepid and predictable—the bits in-between action sequences are just plain dull. The action sequences themselves aren't too badly staged, but in the age of the fantastic battles in the Lord of the Rings movies they come across as tame and small scale.
Last Legion has its fair share of goofy elements—big hairy muscled guys with Viking helmets looking like either ‘Eighties metal band members or Wagner opera extras always have us chuckling appreciatively in our popcorn. What's not to like? However the sad truth is that the film never really truly embraces its own goofiness and keeps it at arm's length. The Last Legion never realises that it is a bad movie and suffers for it. A more energetic and over-the-top approach would have served the film better. The film's pacing and editing is simply too slow.
Instead we get a film that takes itself too seriously while we in the audience don't. One action sequence halfway through has a fair amount of fun, but in the end simply depresses one because it is an indication of how much more fun the film could have been. The endless hand-to-hand swordfights will have you looking at your watch as the film loses all momentum towards the end and grinds towards its predictable ending.
If you want an action epic set in ancient times, then 300 with its stylistic overkill is probably a much safer bet. Last Legion is something you'll rent one day when all the good stuff is out or catch late on TV one night.
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