The Last Legion (2007)

I suppose we all know where this one is headed. 

Now, I’m not opposed to period action films. There are some that I actually like, like Gladiator.  There are others I completely abhor, like Troy.

I became skeptical of the film from the moment I saw Colin Firth’s face appear on screen. I said to D, “Oh, it’s Mr. Darcy!”   And then I cringed at the thought of him wielding a sword and all that. It’s just hard to picture Colin Firth in this type of film, especially because he is getting older and his action sequences in the film showed a level of combat that was not up to par with what his character was purported to have. 

A highlight of the movie was the oil on Aishwara Rai’s body, which was very conveniently slathered all over her for one scene in particular: when they were climbing up the rock face, on their way to save the Little Caesar. She is beautiful; none can deny that.  But her feminine presence in the film was also predictable. When the  masked “Eastern” warrior is kicking more butt than everyone else, it’s bound to be a woman in disguise. No big surprise there.  Considering her prominent role in the film, and her uber superstar status in India, I’m actually quite surprised that she isn’t listed in the film description on Netflix. Strange indeed. She’s listed on the DVD cover….

The film ends on one of the cheesiest revelations ever: that Ambrosinus the philosopher/tutor (played by Ben Kingsley) is actually Merlin and the Little Caesar eventually changes his name to Pendragon (first name Uther for you non-die hard Arthuriad fans) and marries Ygraine (the little girl who gave him a suit of armor earlier in the film).  And, Uther and Ygraine, sire none other than the future King Arthur (who is there in the film in the last few moments talking to “Merlin”).  How sweet, and convenient to tie all that up in the last 60 seconds of the film.  It just felt a little forced.  For instance, they could’ve mentioned earlier in the film the little girl’s name was Ygraine…I don’t know…something.  Maybe I missed the clues other than the glaring “special sword of Julius Caesar” part, but by the time Caesar Romulus Augustus throws the sword into the stone, the final bit with “Merlin” comes on to reveal the “surprise.” 

I’m just wondering why they keep making King Arthur films. What is it in our collective unconscious that makes us want to reidentify with this mystical figure of lore? Are we truly desperate to constantly remind ourselves that our mythology has such figures as King Arthur? 

As a side note, but I will be getting to my point soon, Virgil was commissioned by Caesar Augustus to write The Aeneid (circa 19 B.C.E.). Caesar Augustus was Julius Caesar’s nephew and heir, and he wanted his lineage to be traced back directly to the Roman/Greek Gods; thereby proving that he was a god (and so was Julius Caesar). So he paid Virgil to do this by tracing the lineage of Caesar Augustus & the (then) future founders of Rome (Romulus & Remus) back to Aeneas (son of Troy), back to Aeneas’ goddess-mother Venus, and therefore proving Caesar Augustus’ god-heritage. Pretty simple and effectively done, albeit very obvious in its propaganda for Caesar Augustus’s godliness.

(By the way, if you haven’t seen the HBO series, Rome, you should check it out because it documents the murder of Julius Caesar and the rise of Octavian, a.k.a. Caesar Augustus. It’s a GREAT series. I can’t believe it’s off the air. Maybe one day they’ll bring it back.)

As The Last Legion ended, and I sat dumbfounded at the quick tying together of loose ends, I thought of  the propagandistic nature ofVirgil’s work.  Caesar Augustus wanted to prove his godliness so he used the most popular method available to him to do it: the epic poem.

My thought is that we, in the West, are in the midst of an identity crisis.  We don’t know what to do, where to turn, who to look up to. So we make films.  Our leaders, of late, have been more to the likes of Arthur’s evil incestuous bastard son, Mordred, and not upstanding and honorable like Arthur and his “line.”  So why do all of these Arthur films keep coming out?  Why are we trying to reidentify with Arthur so much now?  Arthur is a lot closer to us than the Roman/Greek gods were. So a film like Troy would not have had the purpose of trying to identify a modern audience with its likely-ancestors.  But Arthur is a Briton and we in America are basically British, once removed. So are we trying to connect ourselves somehow with King Arthur as a possible part of our history and lineage too?  The director of this film is American, not British. I think it’s possible. And it appears that the ultimate point of this film was to show King Arthur’s lineage, so I don’t think I’m too far off on this.

We’re struggling for heroes to believe in and identify with. And all the good ones are pretty much myth. So what do we do now?

One thought on “The Last Legion (2007)

  1. I saw this film, and it is pretty wretched.

    I actually ignored the Arthurian part of it because, a, I don’t care about Arthurian legend, and, b, it completely obliterated the point of the story. It’s actually based on a “true” story–as true as any story of the ancient world can be at this point. The Last Legion is actually meant to be the story of the Last Legion of Rome and its final gasping demise of the Roman Empire, pushed to the outer limits in England. Liberties were taken, like oiling up Rai, of course, but most of the elements are what historians agree upon.

    I think, though, now that I think more about such a bad movie, that the point of throwing in the useless connection to Arthurian legend at the end was more about storytelling in general. Doug Lefler’s projects are frequently about storytelling (he’s done a lot of work with mythology, Xena Warrior Princess, and storyboarded a lot of television shows), so it makes me wonder if he’s trying to position himself in a tradition of storytellers. The myths of Greece and Rome lead to the myths of England, which lead to poorly made films Colin Firth should be ashamed of. He just had to pick things people would be familiar with…and even those of us who are not Dungeon Masters know about Rome and Arthur.

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