When one hears the name “Channing Tatum”, many things come to mind: rippling abs, an affected homeboy-like cadence, a backwards ballcap, those oft-murmured rumors about Tatum’s former life as a male stripper (not a joke). Something one doesn’t tend to think upon hearing the name “Channing Tatum” is: brilliant actor. Kevin MacDonald’s The Eagle— starring Tatum, in addition to Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland– is the latest attempt from Camp Tatum to change the way we think of the former Step Up 2: Tha Streets star. Many of you avoided The Eagle when it hit theaters in February, but now that it’s on DVD, we’re free to discover what– if anything– we missed. What’d we think? Find out after the jump, folks…
On the one hand, The Eagle wasn’t a complete disaster when it hit theaters earlier this year: despite a marketing campaign that felt about as exciting as watching water evaporate, the film earned about $40m at the box office (it cost just $25m to put together, not counting marketing, etc). That said, it only reaped a 40% rating from the nation’s critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and the “word on the street” about Channing Tatum after The Eagle arrived was…well, there was no “word on the street”, so…no news is good news, I guess?
Look, it might seem odd to focus so much on Channing Tatum in this review, but let’s face it: not only is he the star of this movie, but one gathers that this entire film was crafted to put Tatum on our radars. A few years ago, 300 came out of nowhere to put both Zack Snyder and Gerard Butler on the map, and while The Eagle and 300 don’t have all that much in common story-wise, one could reasonably assume that Focus Features (who distributed the film here in the States) was hoping for a similar outcome: a relatively cheap swords-and-sandals-and-mud-and-muscles movie where brawny dudes bark orders at one another whenever they’re not fighting, starring a guy that’s been hovering on the edge of stardom for awhile now, directed by a dude who’s made a couple of reasonably successful films (in Macdonald’s case, it’s Touching the Void and The Last King of Scotland).
As we all know, though, 300 went on to earn hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office (epilogue: Gerard Butler has all but disappeared), while The Eagle didn’t come anywhere close. It was a reasonable gambit, but a losing one. It could’ve been worse, of course. The movie could’ve bombed horrifically, earned a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, become a cult movie alongside other “So Terrible It’s Worth Watching” films as Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender and Jonah Hex (note: neither of these films have achieved that status yet, but in five years time, they will have; come back and read this review then). I might argue that a movie that lands with a complete thud is actually worse than one that finds some success– even if it’s success in being mocked ruthlessly by living rooms filled with drunken college students– but whatta I know? I’m not a PR type.
And if The Eagle is really just an attempt on the part of all-involved to elevate the careers of all-involved (particularly Tatum), we must also assume that the film’s watchability lives or dies based on his performance therein. To that end, I found Tatum to be the same Channing Tatum that I’ve always expected Channing Tatum to be (I confess that I have not seen either Step Up, Step Up 2: Tha Streets, Havoc, Supercross, She’s The Man, or GI Joe: Rise of Cobra): boring, flat, easy-on-the-eyes-for-those-that-are-interested but pretty much devoid of any compelling spark that might make me like the guy despite the fact that he’s probably gotten to where he is because of his looks (see also: Bradley Cooper)(but Tatum’s much, much less talented, so much so that I’m kinda regretting dragging Bradley Cooper into this)(Sorry, Bradley Cooper; you know I love you, baby).
I did see Channing Tatum in The Dilemma, though, and he wasn’t completely terrible in that. Somewhat terrible, but not completely. If he does well in next year’s 21 Jump Street, we might have to start wondering if his talent isn’t in (intentional) comedy.
You’ve probably noticed that we’re about 57 paragraphs into this review, and I’ve neglected to provide a plot synopsis. If you’re really all that concerned with the plot synopsis on The Eagle (I mean, really, does it matter?), here ’tis: the Romans’ North Legion has gone missing in Britain. Among that Legion was the father of Marcus (Tatum, known in some nefarious circles as “C-Tates”), the guy who carried the “Eagle Standard” of the Ninth (that’d be the titular Eagle: a golden pendant that…well, just kinda sits there, decoratively. On stuff. Or in your hands. Or whatever), and 20 years after his father, his Legion, and their shiny little Eagle have gone missing, Marcus shows up on the outskirts of Britain to run a garrison/outpost filled with disgruntled Romans. When Marcus hears rumors about the Eagle having popped up somewhere inside Britain, he decides to drag his totally-hetero manservant, Esca (played by Billy Elliott himself, Jamie Bell), into the wilderness to retrieve it. Much countryside-traveling, mud-stomping, tribespeople-beating, and so on ensues. Eventually, Marcus gets his ornament back and he and Esca march off into the sunset (spoiler).
Hollywood doesn’t seem to understand that in order for these sword-and-sandals movies to work, one has to have something special waiting in the wings. 300 had the eye-popping visual style of Zack Snyder and the foundation of Frank Miller’s words (not to mention an endless supply of codpieces), while Gladiator had the talent of Ridley Scott behind the camera, a really cool script, and Russel “Fightin’ ‘Round The World” Crowe in the lead role. When you try and make a sword-and-sandals movie without something special up your sleeve, you end up with The Eagle. Or Troy. Or a bunch of other movies you’ve forgotten even existed. Kevin Macdonald did a fine job with The Last King of Scotland, sure, but this kinda thing isn’t what he oughtta be doing.
I confess that I fell asleep the first time I attempted to watch The Eagle (almost never a good sign), and that starting it over a second time required an amount of willpower that I didn’t even know I possessed. There’s action in the film, but it’s all standard, been-there-done-that kinda stuff, nothing you’ll remember ten minutes after watching it. The actors all look relatively bored to be there, and the film’s not all that pleasant to look at: it’s all dark greys and browns and a color that IKEA identifies as “Bleghaarf”. I believe in giving credit where credit’s due, though, so I just wanna make it very clear that I didn’t think The Eagle was a terrible movie– just a boring, unpleasant to look at, charmless, and pedestrian one. Focus Features, feel free to use that pull-quote on any forthcoming 3D Blu-ray releases.
The DVD comes packaged with an alternate ending (*furious masturbation motions here*), a few deleted scenes (*masturbation motions continue*), a making-of documentary that will cause your eyes to glaze over almost immediately (*masturbation motions cease as sleep envelops the critic*), and a commentary with director Kevin Macdonald (*resumes*). It’s also worth noting that the DVD features both the “Unrated” and “PG-13” versions of the film. I watched the “Unrated” version, but it wasn’t particularly grisly. Considering that both versions of the film are the exact same length, though, one wonders if they didn’t just cut-and-paste some insert shots during the battles (or maybe they just added a little blood spatter here and there). In either event, your response will be a resounding “WHATEVER”.
I don’t want to talk about The Eagle anymore.
My grade? C-