Charismatic hunks of beef are hard to come by, and Channing Tatum is one of them, provided that he’s limited to a narrow range—in this case, contemporary American characters who are tough yet gentle, sometimes dim, yet appealing and unpretentious. Director Dito Montiel cast him well twice as streetwise teens, in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting, and Tatum even acquitted himself as a walking paperback cover in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation Dear John. He certainly cuts a good figure as a 2nd-century Roman warrior in The Eagle, which sends him off on a single-minded quest to earn back his national and family honor in the wilds of Northern Britain. But the formalities of the period dialogue and a wavering, inexplicable accent test him beyond his limits, and the film isn’t thoughtful or original enough to survive it.
Arriving fast on the heels of the flawed but superior Centurion—which itself came on the heels of the more audacious and far superior Valhalla Rising—The Eagle deals with the fallout from the Roman Empire’s failed attempt to conquer territory in the northern part of Britain. Tatum plays a soldier whose father commanded the Ninth Legion, which lost all 5,000 men in the effort, plus the Golden Eagle, a symbol of Roman pride. With only a British slave (Jamie Bell) at his side, Tatum resolves to travel into the nether region north of Hadrian’s Wall and retrieve the Golden Eagle, risking the probability that the forces that wiped out 5,000 men would wipe them out, too. Tatum relies on Bell as a guide and translator, but trusting his slave is another matter.
The Eagle broaches the question of whether the Roman Empire has any honor to restore after greedily forging into a godforsaken land that offered little more reward than conquest itself. The question potentially complicates the hero’s pride-seeking adventures north of Hadrian’s Wall, but it’s dropped almost as soon as it’s raised. Director Kevin Macdonald (Last King Of Scotland, State Of Play) falls back on decently choreographed action sequences and predictable confrontations that add violence and subtract depth. Casting Tatum in the lead doesn’t balance that equation.