During my last review, I experienced some degree of consternation over the fact that I was expecting to be ranting about a crap movie, and was instead forced to accept that it was actually largely entertaining and well made.
In a bid to avoid disappointment, this time I followed Amazon Prime’s recommendations based on the Jon-Snow-delivery-mechanism ‘Pompeii’, feeling that such a trail of breadcrumbs must surely lead to juicy awfulness, ripe for critique.
For once, I was right.
‘The Last Legion’ is magnificent in its mediocrity. It is so chaotic and sporadic and bizarre that I don’t know where to begin. I’ll start with the first thing I noticed: this film could have been a dry-run for ‘Game of Thrones’. Right off the bat, in the first scene alone, there are three actors from the HBO adaptation of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Every scene thereafter, more and more appear. They must fuck each other in real life as much as they do on the show, because these bastards were multiplying faster than E. coli.
In no particular order, we meet:
- Iain Glen (‘Jorah Mormont’)
- James Cosmo (‘Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’)
- Thomas Brodie-Sangster (‘Jojen Reed’)
- Nonso Anozie (‘Xaro Xhoan Daxos’)
- Owen Teale (‘Ser Alliser Thorne’)
- Alexander Siddig (‘Doran Martell’)
- Robert Pugh (‘Craster’)
- Murray McArthur (some Wildling, apparently)
Then, I started noticing that a lot of ‘The Last Legion’ features scenes taking place in locations startlingly reminiscent of “King’s Landing”, “Pentos” and “Beyond The Wall”, and for most of the time I spent watching it, I genuinely assumed this film was made after a season of ‘Game of Thrones’ had wrapped, and they found themselves with leftover money and location permissions that were still valid, and just decided to make something of it.
Except that ‘The Last Legion’ was released two years before ‘Game of Thrones’ even started filming. So I dunno. It just weirded me out. But not as much as the rest of the film did.
It opens with the most unoriginal telling of a prophecy I’ve ever experienced. Ben Kingsley provides the voice-over with an inexplicable Welsh accent. Then we forget about the prophecy for the first third of the movie – I’m not even kidding. Our first scene is Colin Firth arriving with Alliser Thorne, Xoan Daxos and some guy who I think might have been called “Demetrius” but whom I’m positive Colin Firth later calls “Delicious”, and I much prefer the latter.
We get a good thirty minutes of solid Roman action. I really liked this portion of the film; it was uninspired, but impressive. There are huge crowds of cheering Roman citizens, great costumes, great sets, it all works. In the space of twenty minutes, we see Jorjen get made Emperor and get a crown, we get Goths sacking Rome, the crown gets trodden on (by another HBO vet, Kevin McKidd), Jorjen’s parents get killed brutally.
Jorjen gets kidnapped, gets taken to an island fortress as a prisoner, Colin stages a daring rescue with his little band of Thronites and Delicious, helped by Aishwarya Rai and an IKEA-ballista. And half-way through this sequence, it all just starts… to fall apart.
Sir Ben Welshley gets strung up from a crane, and whilst there notices a big metal sign that suddenly reminds him of the entire plot of the movie. He shouts instructions to Jorjen, which their captors either can’t hear or willfully ignore. Meanwhile, Aishwarya and Colin get some brief interaction in a baffling scene which starts as on-location filming, before switching to obvious green-screen between two lines.
I get that pick-ups happen, but did they really fuck up half of the scene enough to justify awkwardly jamming in another minute of dialogue that has no actual bearing on the story? The decision to do this makes no sense to me.
But it makes more sense than any of the hair in this movie. You might think that I’m having a turn, but I am serious. The wig- and beard-design in ‘The Last Legion’ is so overwhelmingly appalling that I wonder if it was done as a joke by the make-up department and nobody picked up on it until too late.
Kevin McKidd in particular suffers – the fake fringe is so distracting I honestly thought he wasn’t even playing a human when I first saw him. Like, I genuinely thought he was meant to be Klingon or something. It made more sense.
In truth, it wouldn’t be fair to pick on just the hair design. Poor Aishwarya Rai sweated along with the rest of the cast during the location shoots during scenes on the island, so to replicate the glistening on her skin, and again, I’m being serious here, someone saw fit to just oil her up during reshoots. The pick-up shots were jarring enough, but let me tell you that there is something otherworldly about seeing a woman instantly transition from natural perspiration to lubed-up cleavage.
And these are just the technical details from the first portion of the film. I could talk about the music, which was very competently put together by someone watching a completely different movie. It’s not bad, it’s just inappropriate.
How about the rampant swings in tone? From violent revenge-seeking to adventurous treasure-hunting to light-hearted romantic-comedy. I spend the first thirty minutes thinking I was watching a gritty historical romp in the vein of ‘Pompeii’ or ‘Arn: Warrior Templar’ or ‘Black Death’. But apparently that was all a ruse and this is actually a fantasy story about FUCKING ARTHURIAN LEGEND.
Because after they get back from the island – which, why did the story need to take us there in the first place, by the way? They just rescue the kid and fuck off again. I mean, he finds the sword there, but he could’ve found that anywhere, it’s not like there’s actual historical records detailing the location of where a fucking magical sword made for the Caesars was hidden.
ANYWAY, they get back from the Island of Pointless Plot Threads after some really good fight scenes (which failed to advance the story in any way) to get insta-betrayed by their would-be allies as soon as they return. In one of the biggest crimes of the film so far, Alexander Siddig has managed a grand total of about three lines since he first appeared, and now suddenly betrays our heroes before getting stabbed up by Aishwarya, in one of the most egregious wastes of talent since… his role in ‘Game of Thrones’.
I mean, in his first scene he turns up to say about nine words to the King of the Goths, who tells him to fuck off almost immediately, so he just leaves. Why even put him in the scene? Why have him in this movie? Alexander, you’re great, you could do so much better! This is post-‘Kingdom of Heaven’, you could do anything you want! Why this? Why?
Aishwarya’s murder of Siddig comes with its own problems, though, since some twelve-year-old holding her hand is apparently enough to overturn her lifetime of training and oath-swearing and encourages her to indulge in outright treason against her compatriots. Maybe the film-makers needed more shots of her oily breasts.
They decide to travel to Britannia, for… reasons. By this point, I was becoming more and more hysterical as I watched. They arrive on British shores, then suddenly Welsh Kingsley brings up some masked bloke called “Vorticunt”. I think he meant “Vortigern” but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve never heard of him until fifty minutes in, even though Venticunti will now be the main antagonist for the remaining thirty-five minutes of film.
Despite the entire story being set in 475 AD, Vorticunt lives in the most Medieval castle I have ever seen. He wears a big golden mask for reasons that are never explained, and he… He was mean to Sir Welsh Welshley a long time ago, apparently. He also wants the magic sword, of which we just now get reminded and which is once again the centre of the story line. I thought we were all about the collapse of the Western Roman Empire?
I can’t decide what the main plot is, but that’s alright because neither can the film-makers. It’s something to do with destiny, the end of the Roman way of life, the last stand of the last legion, and a magic sword which could be magic, but so far hasn’t done anything magical.
I’m starting to get a headache.
We get a pointless training montage between Colin and Aishwarya, which would be cute if it wasn’t entirely unrelated to the plot. I swear the director must have been indulging in a lot of cocaine, because he flits around from one thing to the next like a bluebottle in a room full of shite. One moment we’re wasting time with a forced romance sub-plot, next we’re fannying around with undeveloped villains, now we’re… some bullshit to do with farmers who are legionaries who are farmers and then they don’t know he’s the Emperor but then they suddenly introduce this Blacksmith character from nowhere who gets one scene of acting but then never appears again even though it was his kids who got murdered, did I mention that there’s child-murder in this film?
Then we – hang on – castles. No, Romans, and walls… Empire… FIGHTING! And Vorticunt, Caesar, he’s – no, it’s the Goths who… I… Let me… I can’t… Fuck. Fucking – film. Film, MOVIE, fucking… swoooorrrd. I’m almost…
… Look, I’m going to cut to the last bit, because despite the fact that I only finished watching three hours ago, trying to make sense of the latter half of this film is causing my central nervous system to shut down. I have a feeling that it’s more straight-forward than I’m thinking, but if you want a synopsis, read the Wikipedia article. I’m sure that will clear everything up.
So, we get to the final battle, in a ruined castle on Hadrian’s wall. Then things start happening. Colin gives a noble speech which is either about the glory of Rome or the defense of Britannia, but they’re defending Britannia against her own native population. Look, it’s clear he doesn’t know why he’s there, but he is there and God damn it he’s going to make the best of a bad situation. He mentions that they had lost “two friends” but I’m pretty sure that with the sacking of Rome there were more people hurt than that, including all those Imperial guards killed when Jorjen first gets kidnapped, but I think Colin had turned to drinking by this point so I’m not going to put too much pressure on him.
Then we see Sir Welshy-Welsh Welshley launching the absolute worst CGI fireballs I have ever seen in a production that could be called “professional”. And I’m not even talking about films, the original ‘Baldur’s Gate’ had more convincing effects and that was an isometric roleplaying game from the ’90s.
So then Wartycunt’s best friend exclaims “They have a sorceror!” and Cuntycunt responds “That’s no sorceror” even though he JUST LITERALLY THREW FIREBALLS AT YOUR ARMY WHAT DID YOU THINK HE SUDDENLY INVENTED NAPALM YOU MASKED MORON JESUS WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU OH MY GOD IS THIS FILM STILL GOING?
Jorjen climbs out of the castle and onto the battlefield, I think because he wanted to add extra peril to the scene, but whatever, there are some great combats all through this bit, this is a fantastic battle so far – except for the cartoon fireballs. It’s exciting, y’know?
And then things get extra weird. It’s actually difficult for me to describe, but the standard thing happens where the army that said it won’t fight turns up to fight and save the day, and suddenly the entire picture quality changes. I’m not even joking around with this, it’s as though they suddenly switched cameras. Seriously. Everything’s suddenly all grainy and it looks great but it also looks completely different to the entire rest of the fucking film.
Honestly I thought it was because they had used stock footage for all of the Roman soldiers, but Colin is in there, along with the rest of the cast, and they all look the same, so either they used stock footage and changed the rest to match the picture quality, but only for this scene, or they changed the cameras they were using, again just for this scene. I don’t understand. What’s going on? Is this what going mad feels like?
Wellllllshy defeats Cuuuuunnnnnt in some not-terrible but not-great fight scene with lots of fire, the mask gets ripped off revealing some weird kind of wounded face thing underneath, no explanation, into the fire he goes and out of the story, just as quickly as he arrived. Welsh waves the mask around and says he killed Cunt, everyone goes home except for Kevin McKlingon who tries to kill Jorjen but Colin intervenes and gets not-killed? He almost gets killed but not quite.
At no point do we have explained to us what the magical sword of power and destiny actually does, except maybe cut through other swords if you’re really lucky, so Jorjen throws it away, it turns into a CGI cartoon because the animators were using Sega Megadrives as the main processors for all of their visual effects rendering, then it lands in a rock and we get a shitty epilogue and it’s all done.
As we fade to black, we get the one bit of the film that could have been rewarding – we zoom in on the Latin inscription on the blade, now obscured and given the “V’ger” treatment, to reveal the sword’s true significance. The individual letters light up, revealing:
E. FUCKING S. CALIBUR.
Hey y’all, do you remember all those fun stories about King Arthur, son of the last Roman Emperor, who fought with his legendary sword, ESCALIBUR? I used to love all of the tales about Arthur and his friend, Lantillot, with Gunnyvere and Morlon and the Lady of the Lace.
I mean, they had the ENTIRETY OF LATIN at the disposal from which to pick their bullshit motto to be engraved on the sword, and they decided to fuck it up. How? Why? What is WRONG with these people? Do they need help? Should they join a support group? HOW DO YOU MAKE DECISIONS LIKE THIS?
I mean, I could forgive the fact they thought the Sword in the Stone was Excalibur, plenty of people make that mistake, but HOW DO YOU GET THE FUCKING NAME WRONG? I mean, Jesus H. Fucking Belushi, it’s not like it’s even the actual name of the sword, in Latin it’d be called “Caliburnus” or something, so WHY EVEN BOTHER? Just, ARGH.
How do movies like this get made? Somewhere at the heart of ‘The Last Legion’ was a compelling fantasy epic about a Roman boy with a great destiny, and then they just fuck it all up. They travel from Rome to some Island to the fucking Alps (for a grand total of two lines of dialogue) then on to Britain and none of it works. Well, the first bit works. But the rest?
You’ve got a great cast of actors, supporting and lead. You’ve got costumes galore, all gorgeously anachronistic. But there are so many baffling decisions made by the film-makers. Doug Lefler has never directed since, now stuck firmly working in the art departments of better productions. But how did names like Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley even get attached to this barmy punch-drunk escapade? Apparently they each thought the plot was “interesting”, and I’ll give them that.
Interesting in the same way that, when you get right down to it, dead bodies are also quite interesting.
There is so much more I could discuss about ‘The Last Legion’ but I can barely remain coherent as is. There’s the lack of a central protagonist, the absence of any sensible story structure, the use of filler with a running time barely past the ninety-minute mark. If my already fragile psyche could stand it, I’d watch this film through a few more times, really dissect every scene.
But I don’t think I’d live through it.