Channing Tatum's Roman Empire drama The Eagle emerges beneath the shadow of many other battle epics before it. It begs the question: Can Tatum and his film possibly stack up against benchmarks like Russell Crowe's Gladiator? The movie capitalizes on the opportunity to attract a younger audience with Tatum and his costar Jamie Bell (all grown up since his Billy Elliott days), and with their requisite physiques and boyish exuberance, they intrepidly wield the swords and shields of the time.
Tatum stars as Marcus Aquila, an officer of the Roman army with a lot to prove. His father, an officer before him, had led his soldiers (the ninth legion) into battle in Northern England, never to be seen again. Lost with them was a golden emblem of an eagle, representing the legion and Rome's honor. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the army unit haunts Marcus for multiple reasons: he grieves the loss of his father and bears the disgrace of his family's name. He's convinced that if he can search out and find the eagle, and figure out what happened to the lost legion, he'll restore his father's honor. It's a plot that may play out well in the novel the film is based on, The Eagle of the Ninth, but Marcus's personal quest isn't compelling on the big screen. Find out why The Eagle doesn't take flight when you read more.
Due to the danger of the journey — the destination, Caledonia, was a deadly place for a Roman soldier in those times — Marcus brings just one companion, his slave Esca (Bell). Esca hails from the territory Marcus is about to infiltrate, and hates his master based on the Roman/Briton rivalry. However, once the men take on the perils of the expedition together and must resort to teamwork to survive an encounter with the savage "seal people," they forge a deep bond. It's a predictable development, but it's ultimately the movie's sole source of entertainment.
The plot progression to this friendship is mind-numbingly boring; the film rolls along at a snail's pace, punctuated occasionally by battle scenes that are remarkably unexciting. Which brings me to the film's other major problem: the dialogue. The script is dumbed down so much that even though the story is easy to follow, you can't help but feel insulted. Beyond that, some lines are so cheesy my jaw dropped, including a closing exchange between the two main characters that feels lifted from an '80s buddy comedy.
The Eagle tries hard to be an epic film, but the only thing epic about it is how dull it is.