From where I stand, the actual plot of The Eagle only begin at about the 40 minute mark before ending at around 80 minutes in. Surrounding it are either scenes to set-up the plot (the film tries to get us to care about the characters), or a really, really, really long chase scene. There’s a ton of filler here, and I ended up only enjoying the 40 minutes in the middle. That means that most of the movie wasn’t fun for me.
For the first forty minutes, we’re introduced to our lead character, Marcus (Channing Tatum). He has just been stationed in Britain as a commander, more or less running the show. We see him engaged in one action scene, which he and his group of men win without much of a struggle. The next day (it seems), there’s another action scene, and Marcus is hurt. He awakens at his uncle’s (Donald Sutherland) house. Unfortunately, we’re still in 140 AD, and Channing Tatum is still the lead. I was hoping it was all a dream.
After a few events that I’m honestly too lazy to describe (or care about), the real plot begins. Marcus and his slave, Esca (Jamie Bell) are going to go off on an adventure to find a lost artifact that has just recently been sighted. It’s in the shape of an eagle, in case you’re wondering how the film got its title. Oh, and this is the same artifact that Marcus’ father lost years ago. That event shames his family’s name, so it’s his duty, presumably, to go find it.
It takes forty minutes to get to this point. There are character scenes earlier on, but none of them actually accomplish anything. I still didn’t care about anyone in the film, and they still haven’t been given any character depth. I started to wonder if they were added simply to pad the length out, but then I found out this wasn’t a 90 minute film; it lasts just about two hours! I was lost in my own thoughts by the time our adventure begins, and that’s never a good sign.
After our prolonged prologue, we finally get to watch Marcus and Esca set off on their journey. The two begin not being friends, given that Esca is Marcus’ slave and whatnot, but eventually grow to like on another slightly more than you might think. I guess a journey into territory unknown brings that out in people. The film claims that they spend weeks looking, although it didn’t seem to take very long to me. Maybe that’s what happens when you make an offhand comment about time passing and don’t actually make a big deal about it.
After this quest comes to an end, one way or another — I won’t reveal how — a chase scene ensues that lasts for most of the rest of the film. It was so boring, repetitive and not at all worth watching. While the story of the Ninth Legion might serve as a basis to frame the film around, it doesn’t really concern it and it’s not exactly all that important here.
I suppose “boring and repetitive” describes practically all of the action scenes of the film, except “poorly edited” can also be used to describe them. In some of the points of the film, during the various sword fights, I couldn’t even tell what was going on. The quick cutting got to me, and I just stopped paying attention. I was pretty sure that the good guys weren’t going to lose until close to the end, when that possibility might actually occur. So I zoned out, I’ll admit to that, which simply speaks to how dull this film is.
I’m trying to figure out why all of the dialogue sounds like the characters were born in present time. I’m not even talking about accents, although most of the characters did speak in an American one, but more about how sentences are formed. It all sounded too modern to me, and that also helped to break immersion. Actually, at times, it seemed like Tatum was trying to put on an accent, but the vast majority of the time, it didn’t work.
The dialogue working against the realism that director Kevin Macdonald strived for is a shame, as The Eagle, if nothing else, looks authentic. If this was a silent film (which, come to think of it, might have been an improvement), I would have fully believed in the scenery, atmosphere and everything else about the look that was achieved here. It also feels gritty, not relying heavily on CGI or sets. (Or if it did, it certainly doesn’t appear that way.)
I was mostly indifferent about the actors. I didn’t like Channing Tatum in the lead, although he had one scene in this film when he had to show genuine-looking emotion (which must be an improvement over most of his roles). Jamie Bell is okay, but largely underutilized, while even actors like Mark Strong, Donald Sutherland and Denis O’Hare show up but ultimately factor in very little. This is mostly a one person show, but, unfortunately, that person is the weakest actor of the bunch.
I had a decent time for 40 minutes and a terrible time for the other 80. Even when The Eagle works, it still only does so marginally. Most of the time, though, it’s such a snoozefest that it’s difficult to recommend to anyone. Channing Tatum can’t carry this film, the supporting actors are underutilized, the action scenes are boring and often incomprehensible, and the plot takes far too long to get going. This just isn’t a good film.