Based on the well-known novel "The Eagle of the Ninth," "The Eagle" is a serviceable movie about the importance of honor and allegiance in ancient Rome.
The young Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) comes to what is now Great Britain to restore the honor of his father, Flavius Aquila, who was part of Rome's Ninth Legion. Flavius was the commander of the thousands of soldiers in the Ninth, which carried the golden Eagle, the symbol of Rome.
Twenty years previously, the troops and the emblem disappeared on their journey into what is now Scotland. Marcus demonstrates his knack for outsmarting the enemy and quick thinking early on, earning the respect of his troops.
But he is wounded during a siege and cannot return to fight with his army. He is taken to the home of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), with whom he attends an arena fight to the death.
Marcus knows a fight between a slave and a strongman will never be equitable. He watches as the slave Esca (Jamie Bell) simply refuses to fight and awaits his death. Marcus shouts to let the slave live and encourages the crowd to give their "thumbs up" as well.
Esca thus becomes the slave of Marcus. Esca is not ungrateful, but he still hates Marcus and everything for which Rome stands. In Esca's mind, the Roman soldiers are killers. The two form a sort of bond, although neither truly trusts the other.
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They set off together when Marcus hears that the Eagle has been spotted in the northern regions of Scotland, where Marcus will not be welcome as a Roman. It's Esca who does the talking as they search for more information about the Eagle, and at one point Esca tells his interrogators it is he who is the soldier and Marcus who is the slave.
The show, which is rooted in historical fact, delivers battle scenes and depictions of what life might have been like during that era. The usually stone-faced Tatum is fine for this role, and Bell is fine, too, as the rebellious slave. (I kept thinking back to their roles as dancers in other movies and marveling that both certainly have made some transitions since then.)
It's not as intense or interesting as "Gladiator" or "Braveheart," but it's a better-than-average sword-and-sandal epic that might lead those interested to pick up the book.