I should probably get to bed but I've wanted to write something about our (very) old friends the Roman Legion. I wasn't a student of classic history and, outside of taking a bit of Latin, I never had a huge amount of direct exposure to the subject. Most of my knowledge about "the" Roman Empire came through studying their (violent) contact with the rest of the world. For example, Roman Britain. The revolt of the Iceni under Boudica, the concurrent attack on Mona, and the (unrelated) disappearance of the 9th Legion from York were my favorite episodes.
I'M GOING TO SPOIL SOME PARTS OF THE MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, THE EAGLE, BELOW.
When I heard that the new film The Eagle was being made, I was excited. The disappearance of the 9th Legion aka Legio IX Hispana is a cool subject. I saw the movie and thought it was... okay. I think one of the problems is that the Roman Legion isn't portrayed as being particularly great for the Britons and the Britons are portrayed as being ... well, not anything. They don't seem to have much character outside of really disliking Romans and having some cool Scottish Deerhounds. Considering the gravitas (yeah I went there) given to retrieving the eagle, the importance of Rome isn't built up that much outside of the main character regularly suggesting, "The eagle... is everything... that is... Rome!" with varying tones of profundity.
When they manage to bring the eagle back, it's a moment of triumph, but who cares? There's never a time where you can go, "Yeah, I guess this aspect of Roman Britain is really cool and the Britons sure are dumb/bad, so this is a Good Thing(tm)." Not that I'm advocating such a Braveheart-y portrayal, but if you're going to end on a high note, you have to build to it.
Alternately, Roman Britain could have been portrayed as being a mixed bag of things that were occasionally good for the Britons but almost always oppressively terrible, with the Britons being portrayed as an oppressed people who also regularly did horrible things to each other in spite of having a common enemy. Because that's pretty much what Roman Britain was: Roman legions stomping on local faces and building some roads while Britons occasionally caused the Romans some grief when they weren't busy killing and/or selling each other out. The hero could have reached this same conclusion, retrieved the eagle, and decided that the only important thing it symbolized was the character of his father during his final moments. There would be no triumphant, celebratory return of the eagle to Roman politicians, just a son coming to terms with the legacy of his father and his own place in the world. That's how I would have ended it, mostly because I think that the world and most of our societies have been differing dark shades of awful, so I find it hard to celebrate any of them.
On a related note, a lot of folks have asked me about the Legion in Fallout: New Vegas and why they aren't more fully fleshed out. The real answer is "time", and I would have liked to have more locations, characters, and quests for the Legion. Even so, the Legion was always intended to be a faction that was initially presented as terrible, much like the NCR is initially presented as heroic, with revelations over the course of the story causing you to question that initial impression in a larger context. Caesar shows a very warped plan for how the Legion can bring order to the Mojave, and there are suggestions that regions under Legion control do enjoy a sort of "Pax Romana", but there isn't enough concrete evidence for the player to directly witness to really sell it. Even so, under the most ideal of portrayals, it was never my intention for the Legion to become a heroic faction. Their methods and approach would have always been unflinchingly brutal, with proven results and a clear plan to reproduce that success being the only potentially redeeming qualities of the group.