Directed by Kevin Macdonald, this adaptation of a 1954 historical novel about second-century Roman legions and youthful derring-do on the far side of Hadrian's Wall is a thunderous boys' adventure of the old school—there's not a female speaking part in the entire movie. Neophyte general Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) assumes command of a British outpost just south of the wall, hoping to redeem his late father who had led the mighty Ninth Legion on a mission across Britannia's northern frontier into the misty realm the Romans called Caledonia. Marcus earns props by spearheading a clanging close-up battle against a mob of tribal Picts led by a prisoner-decapitating druid. Unfortunately, the wounds he suffers are so severe that he is discharged from service—thus creating a situation in which he must travel through the wild highlands to the realm of the aqua-tinted Seal People, accompanied only by his indigenous slave Esca (Jamie Bell). Native Glaswegian Macdonald attacks this material with evident gusto. The atmosphere is viscous: Corpses dangle from the trees to spook would-be Roman interlopers, and one almost expects to see a blue-faced Mel Gibson peeking out from behind a bush of wild mountain thyme. But the ethos of militarist patriotic patriarchy prevails: In the climactic Roman/Scottish fusion, anachronistic bagpipes bleat as Marcus calls the martial tune: "Fathers, brothers, sons . . . may your souls take flight and soar with the eagle."
Donald Sutherland (right) counsels Tatum.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Feb. 11. Rated PG-13. 114 minutes.