The Eagle is an old-fashioned boys' adventure tale that has nary a bloody battle injury or love interest (or even a female speaking part) to scar its PG-13 innocence. This sword-and-sandals epic is also a mildly engaging and roughly historical action picture.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliffe's 1954 bestselling novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, the film tells the story of a second-century Roman general and his slave in the wilds of what was then Britannia's northern frontier - the unknown world of Caledonia, or modern-day Scotland, beyond Hadrian's Wall. Geographically challenged viewers will be calmed by the preface, which lays out the film's scope and its story about the mysterious disappearance, in Caledonia, of 5,000 Roman centurions of the legendary Ninth Legion, along with their totemic metal eagle.
Twenty years after their ignominious end, a young, new general, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), arrives on the scene with a personal mission to solve the mystery and restore the good name of his father, who had been the Ninth Legion's commander. Marcus is accompanied by his slave Esca (Jamie Bell, of Billy Elliot), who is the son of a vanquished tribal leader from the north.
Despite the defensive and primitive-seeming tribal groups with which they come into contact, Marcus and Esca are unable to coax much vitality from the storyline. The Eagle is rife with moral lessons about resentment toward occupying forces and the efficacy of waging battles on an enemy's turf. During one escapade, Marcus and Esca even swap master and servant roles in order to save their hides. But the lessons befit the story's genesis as a boys' adventure tale.
It's easy to understand native Glaswegian Kevin Macdonald's interest in this film, especially given his status as the director of historically based documentaries (One Day in September) and fiction (The Last King of Scotland). The film reunites him with screenwriter Jeremy Brock, who also penned The Last King of Scotland. But given the sketchy characterizations and historical details, The Eagle fails to soar.