‘The Eagle’ Review

Published 4 years ago by

The Eagle movie review The Eagle Review
Screen Rant’s Sandy Schaefer reviews The Eagle

The Eagle is quite simply one of the more tepid swords & sandals adventures to grace the silver screen in modern times. While other, recent entries in the genre have thrived on sheer bloody spectacle and emotional fanfare, this is a film that favors mood and atmosphere over visceral action.

Ultimately the movie falls flat because it lacks the substance to satisfy as an arthouse drama, and is far too muddled in structure and pacing to offer those in the mood for some mindless violence much bang for their buck.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical adventure novel, “The Eagle of the Ninth” is the basis for this story, which takes place in Roman-ruled Britain circa 140 AD. The opening text of The Eagle reveals that some twenty years prior, the Ninth Legion of Rome, led by Flavius Aquila (Hungarian actor Aladár Laklóth), disappeared mysteriously in the uncharted highlands of Caledonia, and with them vanished a treasured symbol of honor – a golden emblem in the form of a magnificent eagle.

The film then introduces its protagonist to be one Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), son of Flavius and a young centurion himself, who has been assigned to command a post near the outskirts of Roman territory. There Marcus proves himself to be a more than competent general, ably leading his troops against an invading army and even risking his own life by charging down a pack of armored chariots so as to buy more time for his fellow soldiers to retreat to safety. Marcus ultimately suffers some severe and debilitating wounds for his efforts, which earns him respect in the eyes of his superiors – along with an honorable discharge, as he is no longer fit for service.

Disenchanted by his fortunes, Marcus is left in the care of his uncle (Donald Sutherland) and eventually acquires a body slave in the form of Esca (Jamie Bell), a Brit spared a gruesome death in the gladiator arena at Marcus’ behest. When he is informed by the Legate Claudius (Dakin Matthews) of rumors that the Ninth Legion’s prized emblem has been seen recently, Marcus recruits the mysterious Esca to cross over Hadrian’s Wall and into Caledonia in order to recapture the Eagle and restore honor to his family’s name.

The Eagle new image2 The Eagle Review

The Eagle starts off at a lively pace for the first half hour or so, but slows considerably and fails to pick up again until the final twenty minutes. There are brief moments of combat peppered throughout the movie, but most of the action is restricted to the opening act and a small battle that serves as the climax. That wouldn’t be a problem if the remainder of the running time was devoted to developing and fleshing out the film’s characters and themes, but it fails to do that – and ultimately gives the audience little reason to care about the bond formed between Marcus and Esca or consider the implications of their strong beliefs about the true meaning and value of honor.

Neither Tatum or Bell flat out embarrass themselves with their performances, but they do fail to bring any sense of depth, charisma, or really even personality to their characters. The few scenes that require either actor to express an emotion other than stoicism or quiet frustration simply don’t work and fail to be particularly moving. Even as the film strives to convince us that Marcus and Esca are developing a stronger sense of mutual respect and brotherly love for one another, it’s never really seems apparent or even remotely believable. Tatum and Bell just seem to be rolling with the punches, more than anything.

The Eagle image4 The Eagle Review

Where The Eagle does excel is in its ability to capture the look and feel of life in its ancient world setting. The film was shot on location in Scotland and Hungary, and while director Kevin Macdonald doesn’t always take full advantage of his surroundings, he does deliver some beautiful landscape visuals full of misty mountains, steely rivers, and woods that range from luminous and fertile to chilling and barren.

Props should also go out to the production and set design departments, since they do an excellent job of making everything from the chipped walls of the Roman architecture to the log-based fortress that Marcus presides over in the first act feel all the more real and textural. The costume and makeup team deserve credit as well, since they generally did an excellent job of making the film’s characters also appear all the more real and authentic – with the exceptions of Tatum and Bell, who frankly look more like Calvin Klein models with bits of mud and blood occasionally smeared on their faces than anything else.

The handful of action sequences in the movie are a bit underwhelming, since they tend to be too darkly lit and chaotically shot. Macdonald decided to employ a lot of handicam cinematography in these scenes and while they’re neither excessively shaky or over-edited, the fact remains that everything is shot at too close a distance, so it’s often difficult to distinguish one character from another. The resulting clutter of swords, shields, clubs, axes, and limbs is unlikely to induce too many headaches, but it’s not especially engaging either.

The Eagle movie trailer image The Eagle Review

While Macdonald has worked in the thriller genre before and has proven himself capable of creating suspense, he’s probably not very comfortable handling action and it shows here. The end result is that The Eagle ends up featuring only a few action sequences that are simply adequate in design, but lack the punch that some moviegoers will be looking for (that it’s Rated PG-13 won’t help, either). Those seeking a more thought-provoking tale of ancient Romans will find it all to be a bit ho-hum as well, since there’s not much substance to the story, beyond what’s apparent on the surface.

To sum it all up: The Eagle is neither especially good nor terrible. Mostly, it’s just kind of… there.

Check out the official theatrical trailer for The Eagle below:

[poll id="121"]

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Figured this movie would be flat because of the acting. Tatum as the lead that doesn’t involve dancing = flat.

  2. Precviews made it look Ok at best, but I waved it off as pure crap when I saw Channing Tatum on the cast that guy is such an awful actor. IMO he embarrasses hims self in every film. He really is just a joke.

    • I saw this about a year ago, it isn’t terrible but its hardly great. It’s the only decent role Tatum has ever done though.

    • Yet he is still in movies…go figure. I knew this movie would suck so no surprise.

  3. “Neither Tatum or Bell flat out embarrass themselves with their performances, but they do fail to bring any sense of depth, charisma, or really even personality to their characters.”

    Did you even have to write this? Isn’t it obvious? That’s Tatum in every damn movie. How is this moron still getting roles?!

    • I believe he keeps getting work because a little over 50% of the worlds population is female.

  4. Channing Tatum is quite possibly the worst actor of the last few decades.

  5. Thanks Sandy.
    I was going to waste money on this.
    But you made it pretty clear.
    This film wont get a dime from me.

  6. I must’ve seen a different movie from the reviewer. I enjoyed it and I want to see it again. I appreciated the restrained tone of the movie, and Tatum’s woodenness actually works for once, since the character he plays is purposefully stoic and reserved. (When he fails, though, it’s bad; his speech to Donald Sutherland on why he wants to go north of the Wall is just terrible.)

    The movie’s themes are honor and loyalty — maintaining the former through the latter. Those themes — particularly in the absence of any romantic love angle — make it probably the manliest movie Hollywood’s made in a while. (Not only is there not a romantic interest for the hero, not a single woman has a speaking role.)

    It’s far from perfect, but it deserves better than 2.5 stars.

    • I agree Stephen – I enjoyed the film very much as someone who loves historical epics. It was a pleasant change from the drivel Hollywood keeps producing these days. (My son claims Hollywood suffers from writers with too much in-breeding.)

      I had never seen Tatum in anything before so I had no prejudices about his acting and the part he played in this film required a degree of stoicism that I thought he delivered well. As for historical accuracy, the only references I could find to “Seal People” in ancient Scottish history involved mythology and in the film they appeared to be more Native American than Scottish but I could live with that. I do think the ending could have benefitted from a scene of the two characters returning to Hadrian’s Wall with the eagle and the camera capturing the reaction of fellow Romans there rather than end the story at the provincial governor’s headquarters where nobody seemed to know what to say to each other.

      I noticed that over 75% of people surveyed by this website gave the film between three and five stars so it’s obvious the majority of moviegoers found the film far better than this site’s reviewers. Hopefully, filmmakers will pay more attention to the viewing public than the critics and give us more history-themed offerings.

      • @ Mary

        I agree that The Eagle felt more like an old-fashioned historical epic, and I liked that as well. I also felt like that the technical aspects (direction, cinematography, etc.) were decent, but the characters and story as a whole were both just kind of flat. Hence the average rating.

  7. This is a great homoerotic romp and despite the bad acting, the pace keeps the movie in the passable category. Not the best or the worst, but certainly worth the average theatre price.

  8. I don’t know about the movie but I just discovered some wordplay. ‘Aquila’ means Eagle and ‘Legate’ is an anagram for ‘Eaglet’.

  9. Good movie, worth seeing

  10. It may not be the best film of the year but was not a flop either. There’s more to the story than bloody battle scene on top of bloody battle scene. and thank god no random sex scene scene where we see the female “leads” boobs for 5 minutes as she speaks a total of 5 lines like many time movies. The battles are interesting as is the characters relationship. Odd there’s no female parts but it’s truer to the book. Overall still a movie to see ….n Jamie bells super fine

  11. Wow. People are being WAY to hard on this movie. Funny how a trend developes. You know what? I thought it was fun and good. it made me feel like a i found a little known nopvel in a old library and read it alone and enjoyed it. It wasn’t 300, or Lord Of The Rings. it wasn’t supposed to be. It was a small story about two men and a frightful adventure into a strange, little known world of pre-christian Britian.
    What is all the hullabaloo about “lacking” and “art house drama?”

    Can we just take it as what it is? I liked it. B+.

    • @ Bunker

      Basically my meaning that that I felt the movie didn’t have enough depth to work as a sort of meditative, thought-provoking drama (re: arthouse), and its pacing seemed too uneven for a simple adventure story.

      But, honestly, if you got something more out of it than me, more power to you. 8-)

  12. The movie was alright but nothing great.. it was boring at times. The PG 13 rating kinda sucked too.. no blood and gore in any of the battle scenes.. you dont get to see anyone even die and thats lame for a movie of this kind.. Tatum was the worst actor they could have picked for this role.. they needed someone more rugged and not so pretty boyish.. they really messed up on this movie in alot of areas.. This movie could have been GREAT but with all the flaws it was just good at best

  13. At first, the TV commercial caught my interest, so I went out and bought the book. I was half through the book when I was first able to go to the movie and that helped me to put faces and awesome scenery into my mind’s eye while I finished reading the book. My interest was peeked by the sight of Jamie Bell, who I’d only seen in “Jumper.” I’d already read Sandy Shaefer’s review going into the movie, so I was pre-aware of her observations. However, I was won over by the intensity of the physical action by both leading actors, whenever they engaged in fight scenes, the costuming, the sets, and especially Marcus saving Esca from death in the arena. Going to the movie website and learning more from actor interviews, I found out that Jamie Bell had never even been on a horse before, but was determined to do his level best to learn and put his best performance into his portrayal. He is actually a native of the area of the ancient site of his character’s birth and makes a very real representation in both his body and spirit. Knowing this makes this movie even better. I would have liked the inclusion of Cottia, Marcus’ love interest in the book, in the movie, along with Cub, Esca’s wolf cub gift to his master. Also, the depiction of Esca’s character of a slave in the the book or in the movie lacked any depiction of use of force, fear, or restraint that keep most male slaves bound to do their master’s will and I admit that this would have made the movie better for me. It would have made the point where Marcus frees Esca mean more, to see the struggle where the division between master and slave came to an understanding of mutual friendship after a long time spent together. I am a history buff, as well and am going to go on to read more about the British -Roman struggle in that era. I loved Health Leger’s show about those days, so this is a great movie to keep interest in that era alive. I rated this movie three stars and I’d like to see it again.

  14. I just remembered the name of the series that Heath Leger was in that took place in the same era as “The Eagle.” That TV series was titled, “Roar.” Heath played the son of a slain Celtic chieftan, much like the Esca character. In his band of rebels fighting the Roman push into their lands, was an escaped female slave; a Celt of their tribe who had spent time in Roman ownership and hated them. Her knowledge, however, proved to be helpful in understanding Roman ways, again, much like Esca. I hope for more of the trilogy, which The Eagle is a part, is brought to the screen.

  15. I got the DVD out last night and found that I couldn’t watch more than fifteen minutes. The sets were good, the locations great, and costumes also good. The movie makers even went to the trouble of making the Picts speak Gaelic with subtitles. Up until that point, I loved the authenticity.
    But the film is set in England during the the second century AD. I cringed at hearing American accents in the movie. The actors didn’t even make an attempt to speak in European accents.
    Apparently the Romans conquered more of the known world than I realised. The actors I mentioned must have belonged to the 16th Legion, garrisoned in New York.

  16. I just watched this movie.
    It’s a solid 2 of 5, but I’d give it a 2.5 mainly because the overall feel of the movie gives a more real depiction of life in that setting. Most big budget movies over do the detail and strive for a polished look. Keeping things looking dark, damp, with peoples clothing looking like they aren’t washed everyday, which is more realistic for the era, gave the film a realistic presence.

    Yes, the pacing of the movie is odd. The director could have used that slow timing to develop the characters better, instead we get too much stoic acting. I don’t fault the actors as much as the screen writer who could have done a better job at character development.
    That is the movies biggest downfall.
    Events seem to happen too quickly yet the majority of the movie moves along slowly, especially in the middle where most of the story takes place.
    For example, when Marcus and Esca are running from the Seal people, the two end up following a river. Marcus is very hurt, tired, bleeding, and appears close to death.
    Esca is freed and swears to return. More detail should have been put into what Esca does to gather the older soldiers. Perhaps a meaningful discussion with the first Roman soldier they met, who told them he ran from the fight.
    All of this would take time to get the group together and then to finally get back to Marcus.
    However, the whole sub story is Esca running through the forest. There is simply no indication of the amount of time spent to find the old Roman soldier, gather the other Roman soldiers, and then return to save Marcus and regain their honor.
    The way it was all presented is that it took less than 24 hours for all this to occur.
    Unrealistic there. Marcus needed more time to recoup his energy to even be able to fight in the ending battle scene. Instead he takes the time to create a rod so that he can carry the eagle on it.

    BTW, the death of that first older Roman soldier was not necessary. He should have lived to give the audience a sense of redemption through struggle and victory. Instead, he dies and the small group of men who live, we don’t even know, nor care about.
    These are failed areas that can make a good movie. Story telling is in the detail.

    Oh, and when I see this movie again, I am going to count the number of older Roman soldiers that come with Esca. In the scene where you see them, the are not that big of a group and you see they are severely outnumbered by warriors who had beaten them before. Yet they come out victorious even though they are now 20 years older than before.
    The number of deal Romans looks to be much larger than the group we see when they first show up.
    Again, unbelievable.

    Overall, a fun movie to watch. It’s not nearly as bad as crap like “Killdozer” or “Maximum Overdrive” where you feel like a few hours has just been taken from your life. Time you’ll never get back.
    This movie is not like that. It entertains, so it succeeds at least to entertain.

  17. I watch very little as far as movies. I liked this one very much. A welcome change from a lot put out these days and given rave reviews. I disagree 100% with this rating. The soundtrack alone was worth a much higher rating.