The Eagle is the emblem of Rome, a symbol of its honor and achievement. For Marcus Aurelius Aquila (Channing Tatum), acquiring the qualities represented by that noble bird has been the quest of his whole life. Yet it is more than a worthy goal. It is also about repairing a tarnished family reputation. When he was a young boy, his dad disappeared in Northern Britain while leading the Ninth Legion. Because it is widely believed Flavius Aquila and his 5000 men not only lost the Eagle standard they marched under in the far-flung land, but also deserted their duties, it has been Marcus’s ambition to become a soldier and one day discover the true fate of his father.
As a man, the young Centurion’s loyalty to Rome does give him an opportunity to serve in Britain where he proves his bravery. However destiny appears to cripple his chances of pressing north beyond a wall erected by Emperor Hadrian to shut off the barbaric, unconquerable peoples of the Highlands. Then two events occur. Rumors reach Marcus that the golden eagle carried by the Ninth Legion has been sighted in one of the northern tribes. And a slave comes into his possession who was captured from the same area.
Against the better advice of his wise uncle (Donald Sutherland) who warns Esca (Jamie Bell) is only faithful because he is forced to be, Marcus decides to take his servant and head into enemy territory. With the help of Esca’s knowledge of the land and language he hopes the two of them may be able to scout the terrain unnoticed. The plan is to find the Roman emblem (and perhaps get word of what happened to the army), then return with the Eagle and restore his father’s good name.
Once on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall though, the balance of power changes. Stepping back into his former identity, Esca becomes the master and Marcus the slave. For the first time the patriotic Roman learns how it feels to be the conquered instead of the conqueror. Suddenly stories of rape and pillage take on alarming meaning, and Marcus also realizes he’s not the only one who has been forced to cope with personal losses.
These introspective themes add some depth to this story, which otherwise consist of numerous battles sequences, sword fights, and violent conflicts. Fortunately very little blood is depicted, but the portrayal of the death of soldiers and children, discussions of the rape and murder of women, animals skinned and gutted for food, and corpses of the dead and executed, may be disturbing for some audience members. Other content is limited to a few profanities, some scantily dressed men and an intoxicating ceremonial drink.
While Marcus’s reverence of honor and Esca’s desire for freedom are commendable traits, and the lessons both men share enlighten their understanding of integrity and liberty, parents will want to weigh the value of these messages carefully before recommending this Eagle for their older teens.