*** (out of four)
It’s 140 A.D., and without much to do but battle opposing clans, national pride counts for a lot. So Roman soldier Marcus (Channing Tatum) embraces the chance to search wide and far for his country’s golden eagle, which was lost 20 years ago when Marcus’ father and 5,000 other warriors vanished. Plus, Marcus has his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell) to join him, so he doesn’t have to quest alone.
The buzz: Look, when a movie casts all-American, charismatic-but-limited Tatum as a Roman commander, you know they’re not going for authenticity. (After attempting an accent for 30 minutes or so, which is more than some of his co-stars try, he just gives up.) Director Kevin Macdonald (“State of Play”) effectively went back in time and across the world with “The Last Kind of Scotland,” so don’t worry that “The Eagle” will be some kind of phony joke.
The verdict: Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel “The Eagle of the Ninth,” “The Eagle” isn’t a historical epic for people who care about “facts” or want fantastical stories of scantily clad women and campy, magical irony. Marcus has no love interest, and the “Seal People” he encounters aren’t, in fact, people who act like seals. The movie’s a livelier round of swordplay and international pursuit than usual, however, thanks to Macdonald’s knack for the eerie, gathering storm before a massive battle and an engaging tale about respect, friendship and trust. That doesn’t just mean Marcus agrees to eat raw rat off the bone when Esca says Marcus needs to maintain his strength; it results in the master and his subordinate switching places when they arrive in a foreign community (led by the excellent Tahar Rahim of “A Prophet”), a change of perspective that’s sort of like a more meaningful, 2,000-year-old episode of “Undercover Boss.”
Did you know? By bravely leading his men into battle and protecting their turf, Marcus earns a prestigious award for “conspicuous gallantry.” Ask your HR rep what you have to do to earn the same at work.