Beautiful scenery, riveting action, great use of sound. The Eagle overflows with those three ingredients, taking you on an edge-of-your-cushion expedition through 2nd century Britannia. Throw in some passable acting and a moderately appealing script and you have a surprisingly effective February picture.

Marcus Aquila requests assignment in Britannia to recover his family name. The reason being that several years before, the 9th legion – which was led by his father – mysteriously disappeared. Not only did they fail in their mission, but they also lost a golden eagle, a significant Roman emblem of great pride to the empire. Aquila, with the help of his indebted slave, Esca, seeks to reclaim the eagle north of the Hadrian Wall, a perilous land called “the end of the known world.” Will Esca’s Briton roots betray Aquila, and can they survive such a mystical, but treacherous terrain? An amplifying, swords-and-sandals adventure tells the answer.

Going into the film, my biggest concern was whether Channing Tatum could keep the movie afloat, considering his most notable performances to date are Step Up (such a career-promoting role, he got too big for the sequel) and Dear John. I knew he looked the part, but would this be the next installment of Paul Walker in Timeline – the gold standard for horrendously bad beaus in historical attire. Though Tatum leaves room for improvement, he manages the part well, relying on restraint and stoicism and allowing the better components of the film to receive more accentuation.

Jamie Bell brings considerable punch to his portrayal of Esca, showing off a beyond-Billy Elliot versatility. Donald Sutherland is also great, as always, and the lesser parts are played with conviction. The strength of the film, however, is in the directing. Kevin Macdonald demonstrates again why he was praised for The Last King of Scotland and – what I thought was an underrated film – State of Play. There are some tremendous close-up shots of fire, mud, swords and shields, juxtaposed with sweeping glens and lakes. He makes you feel the fighting scenes viscerally, while also compelling you to root for his characters. His work in The Eagle is superb.

This marks one of several recent films to highlight the Romans-in-Britain angle, beginning with Clive Owen’s King Arthur and including Oscar-favorite Colin Firth’s The Last Legion and 2010’s Centurion. I enjoyed all of them – even if The Last Legion was panned by critics – but The Eagle is perhaps the most composed of the whole lot. Forgoing a love story entirely (there is not even a single woman on the billing), the action dominates each scene once it kicks into gear. Even an admitted romantic like me sees the logic in that: better to make a quality adventure film than bog it down with a half-hearted romance.