The Last Legion opens with a young boy following a Roman soldier into his tent and admiring his sword. The Roman, who is actually not just a soldier, but the commander of the Roman army, thinks the boy is a thief and threatens to cut his hand off as penalty for his sneakiness. If only he had cut the boy’s hand off, we could have been spared the two hours that followed.
Instead, the boy is revealed to be Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), the last in the line of Julius Caesar and the new Roman Empire. Unfortunately this is right as the empire is crumbling and young Romulus is soon on the run from the Goths and some other guy in a golden mask named Vortgyn. We know old Vort is evil since he wears a golden mask. With the aid of the Roman Commander Aurelius (Colin Firth) and an old mystical philosopher (Ben Kingsley), Romulus seeks out the powerful sword of Caesar and makes a stand against the forces against him. Let’s see… child ruler… golden mask… wise old sage character… and a powerful sword… where have I heard this before?
That’s right – the premise of the movie is that the sword of Julius Caesar is also the sword that would reveal the once and future king of England. The movie tries its best to make sure the audience is aware of that concept by directly referring to Excalibur with the bookend open and close of the movie, as well as using a similar framework for its story. It’s an idea that could have been rather slyly executed, but all the references are so overt all possible cleverness is quickly removed.
The film has trouble finding a genre to fit into. For an action flick, there’s an awful lot of time spent talking about politics and attempting to set the stage for a vast setting around the movie. There’s so much talking at times, you wish everyone would just shut up and fight. Then the fighting begins and the fight choreography is so horrid you wish everyone would go back to the talking again. At least with the talking you can take a nap. At the same time, from cringeworthy fighting styles to fantastical weapons such as the rocket launcher style multiple arrow launcher, the environment is too outlandish for this to be historical fiction, which could have saved the story from the need for building the setting so much. It’s just a wash. The movie tries to fit into several genres and winds up not belonging anywhere.
The sword-and-sandal genre hasn’t had much success recently. Troy and Kingdom of Heaven may have been off course, but at least with those movies there was some eye candy for the audience. Here you have Colin Firth, who looks as rugged as Commander Aurelius as you might hope for the Bridget Jones actor, but he doesn’t carry the part with the feeling of any experience for the character. The guys get a bit of a visual treat with Mira (Aishwarya Rai), a warrior maiden who has a forced romantic relationship with Firth. The problem is that every time she shows up it’s an instant reminder of how far fetched the story goes. Given her character’s ridiculous combat moves and equally absurd weapons, it should come as no surprise that director Doug Leftler’s previous experience highlights include “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” While we're speaking about the cast, would someone please tell Ben Kingsley to hang it up and retire? His appearance in a movie is rapidly becoming a sign of avoidance rather than the audience draw he used to be.
The Last Legion isn’t a step in the right direction for sword-and-sandal flicks. In fact, this is probably the worst entry in the genre in recent memory, competing with Pathfinder for worst sword flick this year. Follow in the footsteps of The Last Legion and make this movie your last pick.