The Last Legion hits over 2000 screens today across the country, and for most folks, I’m guessing, the first you’ve heard of it was when you clicked on this review. Indeed, I knew nothing of its existence until it popped up on the release schedule, and still, I’ve yet to see a single advertisement or trailer. As such, I had absolutely no preconceived notions, nor any bloody idea what the film was about when I sat down to watch it, other than the fact that IMDb tells me that both Colin Firth (1995’s Mr. Darcy) and Ben Kingsley were in it and, judging by the title and a few screen shots I could find, sandals would be featured prominently. I suspected that the film slipped under my radar because the marketing and advertising campaigns were directed, telepathically, at only those women and gay men who had always wanted to see Mr. Firth in a swords-and-sandal epic and thus the studio-manufactured neural waves flew just over my head, despite my score of 2 on the Kinsey scale. For that demographic, however, I’m sorry to report that your frustration and disappointment with The Last Legion will exist on a plane similar to that of a bad case of fellatio-lockjaw (damn! I think I found a name for my fantasy football team this year) — it’s there for the taking, but it’s all mildly PG-rated.
As it turns out, the type of film and what to expect is more or less given away within the first 90 seconds of The Last Legion with a prologue delivered by the narrator, Ben Kingsley’s Ambrosinus (gesundheit):
The legend began underneath these dark hills and under the same sky. It tells of a sword of great power forged for the conquer of Julius Caesar. This weapon was passed down until it reached the last of Caesar’s noble line, the emperor Tiberius. Upon his death, it was hidden away to keep it from the hands of evil men. For generations it lay in a secret place marked by the sign of a pentagon and, as it was written, under the very gaze of Caesar.
Indeed, Ambrosinus (gesundheit) reveals that it was his life’s pursuit to find the sword and the one “righteous enough to wield it.” That pursuit took him back to Rome, where its “bravest and best” were called back to defend its boundaries in 460 A.D. And, if you’re like me — i.e., you gave up on “Rome” midway through the first episode because anything before, say, the 6th Century A.D. has a homicidally narcoleptic effect on you — I can’t imagine you’d need any more to extinguish any desire you had in seeing The Last Legion (especially if Superbad is playing in the same theater). And, indeed, for the first 20 minutes or so of The Last Legion, I hated it with all the zeal of Dick Cheney at a baby-head eating convention. It seemed, briefly, that the competition between Troy and Alexander for this century’s most torturous peplum epic would soon be moot: The Last Legion would take the sand-and-urine filled trophy cup home to sit atop its Greco-Roman mantle.
But it was about at the 20-minute mark, after we learn that Ambrosinus (gesundheit) is a long-haired, robe-wearing philosopher capable of turning rocks into feathers and that the rightful emperor to Rome and heir to Caesar is the goddamn kid from Love, Actually (Thomas Sangster) when I realized that The Last Legion was not exactly what it at first seemed. Nope. It’s actually a fucking kiddie flick — the sort of throwaway fantasy epic boys 9-11 in 1989 would’ve probably enjoyed because of its nonsensical, undeveloped-brain friendly mythology.
With that perspective, the intensity of my hate fell from Rosie O’Donnell level to a milder level of dislike reserved for things like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, which merely irritate by existing, doubly so for The Last Legion because I fucking had to deal with it. I mean, if you’re going to do a silly kid’s swashbuckler on sand — directed by the guy (Doug Leflar) behind a few Xena episodes, a Hercules TV movie, and Dragonheart: A New Beginning — why in God’s blessed name do you enroll respected actors to deliver overwrought dialogue, such as this nugget of wisdom motherfucking Ghandi has to give to Romulus: “Did you see anything? Anything written? Then you know all you need to know.” But then again, I suppose even Nate and Hayes had its Tommy Lee Jones and The Sword and the Sorcerer had its Richard Moll.
Here, Colin Firth — in the most ridiculous outfit I’ve seen since his hand-knitted reindeer sweater in Bridget Jones — is Aurelius, charged with rescuing Romulus (the aforementioned Sangster) after the Goths overrun Rome and kill the boy’s folks, leaving Odaecer (Peter Mullan) and his henchman, Wulfila (“Rome’s” Kevin McKidd in a silly silly beard) in control of Rome. That’s right, Odaecer and Wulfila — and people give Gwyneth shit for naming her daughter Apple. Anyway, they banish Romulus, along with Ambrosinus (gesundheit), to the island of Capri and Aurelius puts together a crack-team of homoerotic swordsmen to rescue the boy. They have exactly six days. I have no idea why.
Once the kid is saved and finds his sword, Aurelius and his gang (which also includes Bollywood legend Aishwarya Rai as the Lara Croftian Mira, whose smoking hotness exists on a sliding scale with her acting capabilities), have to get to Britannia to find a legion of men who will help them take back Rome. Standing in their way is Volkyn, who looks like one of the guys in the Eyes Wide Shut orgy scene, a notion that actually might’ve put the film’s unintentional sexual innuendos in a much better context. Volkyn (seriously, who made up these names? A 7-year-old? Oh, wait: Peter Rader, the writer of Waterworld, is behind this mess) wants the sword, because he thinks he’s the rightful ruler, which sets up the sort of epic battle you’d expect in Braveheart if Braveheart had been produced for the WE! Network and was sponsored by some unnecessary vagina sanitizing product, replete with one of the most hackneyed, cringe-inducing “rousing” speeches I’ve ever heard, delivered by poor Colin Firth of all people: “Let us defend to the last breath this island of Britannia against those who would tear out its heart and soul. And then those who come after us will remember that there was such a thing as a Roman soldier (!) with a Roman sword (!) and a Roman heart (!). Hail Caesar!”
Jesus, Colin. That’s what he gets, I suppose, for taking a role as “action hero”; the corset suits him much better than the shield, I’m afraid.
Despite the almost constant swordplay and the multitude of stabbings, there is no blood in The Last Legion, which may be the film’s most impressive feat, except — perhaps — for the way it manages to mangle both Roman history and Arthurian fantasy. Because — you see — as it turns out (*spoilers ahead*), as we learn in the final minutes, Ambrosinus (gesundheit) is also Merlin, and Romulus is actually King Arthur’s father, and Caesar’s sword is actually … Excalibur.
Jumping Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
The Last Legion / Dustin Rowles
Film | August 17, 2007 | Comments ()