Set in 5th century A.D. The Last Legion follows the destiny of the young emperor Romulus Augustus Caesar (Thomas Sangster) the last of the Caesars. A palace coup sees his parents murdered and Odoacer (Peter Mullan) seated on the throne of Rome. With the protection and help of Aurelius (Colin Firth) and his ethnically-diverse band of warriors and with the spiritual guidance of Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley) Romulus gains possession of Julius Caesar’s sword--that’s “Excalibur” to you and me--and seeks to re-establish his kingdom far away in Britannia. But trouble is never far behind represented by Odoacer’s snarling henchman Wulfila (Kevin McKidd) and Ambrosinus’ old nemesis Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum) who are closing in--leading to a climactic battle in which good battles evil. Care to wager who wins? It’s hardly a surprise. What is a surprise however is that it took five credited screenwriters to cook up this medieval mélange. That Kingsley and Firth are better than the material isn’t surprising either; both are good actors and the material here simply isn’t. Firth is stalwart handsome and heroic--and that’s all that’s required of him. Kingsley has a few lively moments and the actual identity of his character is yet another non-surprise. Sangster gives a sheepish performance as the displaced boy king. Indian star Aishwarya Rai is alluring as the fearless warrior Mira another of Romulus’ allies who appears to emerge from each battle not only unscathed but with her makeup and hair completely intact. Her chaste romance with Firth isn’t so much predictable as an afterthought. McKidd and Van Gorkum chew the scenery in an effort to enliven the proceedings and Van Gorkum’s metal mask brings to mind the late-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll novelty The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. As Odoacer Mullan has only a few scenes before disappearing from the narrative entirely. John Hannah and Iain Glen drop in briefly to no discernible effect either to the film or to their careers. Doug Lefler a veteran of such small-screen swashbucklers as Hercules and Xena finds himself in familiar territory here. Unfortunately so does the audience. There’s almost nothing to distinguish The Last Legion from any number of medieval melodramas. The good guys are true blue the bad guys are truly vile--and all of it has a weary air. A few nudges of humor seem misplaced amid the clanking swords and flying arrows. In what may well be an effort to broaden the film’s box-office hopes--which won’t spring eternal for very long--some of the grislier scenes appear to have been trimmed. Those expecting a more vicious and visceral adventure may be disappointed by the PG-13 bloodshed on display here.
September 16, 2004 12:22pm EST
In 1930s New York Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi) and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.
Paltrow in the lead role of Polly completely captures the witty rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero one more suave than macho. Less platonic however is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance probably the highlight of the film isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit all the cast members delivered seamless performances especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.
The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells New York's 1939 World's Fair and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene for example that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.