“The Town” showed that you could take a well-worn premise and still make something fresh and interesting with it. Most of the time people try to do that, they end up with a movie like “The Eagle.” It’s quite lovely to look at, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a sword and sandals reluctant buddy road movie, and it’s clear how it will end from the moment it begins.
Roman warrior Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) requests an armored post in the north of England as a means of restoring the good name of his father, who led 5,000 men into the territory 20 years earlier, only for none to return. Marcus is discharged from the army after a brave battle against a local mob of druids, and while attending a gladiator match, he urges the crowd to spare the life of a slave boy named Esca (Jamie Bell). Esca is now in debt to Marcus, so when Marcus hatches a plan to infiltrate the northern part of England (which is to say Scotland) in order to recover a golden eagle that was lost when his father’s men disappeared, he brings Esca with him as a guide, and gets a quick lesson in humility when the slave is suddenly in charge.
Reason is thrown out the door early on for the sake of convenience. The Romans speak the King’s English, while the non-colonized heathens in Britain speak some unintelligible brogue. This was obviously done in order to prevent the entire movie from being some talkie feature where everyone is speaking in subtitles, and on that front, it makes sense. But in fact, it should be the so-called bad guys that should be speaking sans translators, while the Romans should be bringing the E Pluribus Unum. That alone should have been the first sign that adapting this book into a motion picture was a bad idea.
Worse, even when you think Marcus has the chance to learn a lesson or two, they have him telling Esca, “The next chance I get, I will kill you,” even though Esca has just saved his life. They have established that Marcus is smart enough to know that he must play the role of the slave, pride be damned. That he’s still acting out the way he does is just silly. The pity is that Tatum will be blamed if this movie doesn’t become a hit, much like James Franco took the hit when the equally silly “Annapolis” bombed. But here’s the thing: one has nothing to do with the other. “The Eagle” isn’t a misfire because of Channing Tatum – it would have been a misfire regardless of who had been its star. There is just no saving a movie like this.
“The Eagle” probably made for an interesting book, since it would allow the author to shift the focus on historical accuracy in order to make up for its routine story. As a movie, though, it’s pretty dull, and a strange move on the part of the artsy-leaning Focus Features. By the time it’s over, it just seems like a waste of money.(2 / 5)