I was stuck on the edge of a slightly better rating. The action was really cool, the story
was about revenge and staying alive, but something in the execution left
me a little cold.
It seems that opening scene battle sequences are the way to impress
an audience these days. When it happened in The
Empire Strikes Back, it was completely new -the climactic scene at
the beginning. But now it is more normal. And there is no better
way to draw an audience into an action story like this one.
We get to see how good a fighter Maximus actually is. He,
his men, and his tactics defeat the Germanic army easily, and the land
is annexed to Rome. The directing here was strange, and was almost
the opposite of Mission Impossible 2.
Here a lot of it seemed to be in fast-motion, which was a little disconcerting.
But I guess that was one way to reduce the reality of all that gore and
We also get to learn that Maximus was a simple farmer when he
was brought into the Roman army temporarily. Now that the last enemy
of Rome has been defeated, he can go home. But the Roman Caesar wants
him to do one more thing, and that is to teach the Senate how to rule,
then pass the power of the Caesar to the people. Turn Rome into a
democracy. Unfortunately, the Emperor's son is told about this, and
murders his father silently. He then takes the throne, and has Maximus
What he doesn't know is that his men lied to him when they told
him that Maximus was dead. He actually managed to kill all (or almost
all) of his executors, and escape. He runs a horse into the ground,
then almost runs himself into the ground, just to get to his farm, and
wife and son before the Roman army can. But he is too late.
He finds them crucified on his front porch.
Maximus buries them, and falls asleep at their graves.
He is then picked up by a band of travelers, who sells Maximus and another
man to an entertainer. This man entertains in the ring, after he
trains them as gladiators.
Maximus is reluctant to fight, but develops a will to stay alive.
I'm not sure how this came about, because he could not possibly hope to
get a chance at revenge, as a slave like he is now. I was under the
impression that he wanted to join his family in the afterlife.
He is in luck, though, when the new Emperor tries to win the
people to his heart by giving them six months of game-style entertainment.
Most of this is in the form of gladiator fights. Maximus hides his
face behind a helmet, and wins unprecedented victories. His nemesis
takes notice, orders him to remove his mask, and is horrified when he does.
Maximus is the only person who could possibly get away with turning his
back on the Emperor.
Every fight from then on is an uphill battle, as Commodus tries
to have him killed without making him a martyr. For Maximus is now
more popular than the Emperor! There was a really neat scene with
four tigers and a very large opponent fighting Maximus. It seems
impossible to win, and yet he does. It is a terrific battle.
The only thing that mars it is when we see the scene from different cuts,
the tigers are sitting still, only coming alive when they are needed.
The Emperor is clearly unstable. He has a strange passion
for his sister, who is a much stronger ruler than he would ever be.
She sees him for who he really is, and as a great threat to her son, in
line for the throne. So she plots against him. She still loves Maximus, for she was like a sister to him, too. She conspires to
get Maximus out of the city, to his old squadron of men, so that he could
run a coup.
Unfortunately, Commodus gets wind of this, and threatens her
with her son's life. She spills it all, so Maximus is ambushed when
he leaves the city walls. He is brought to a holding cell, and the
next morning, the Emperor challenges him to a dual in the Coliseum, in
front of the crowd. Before they get to the surface, though, he stabs
Maximus in the back. As the dual proceeds, Maximus is still the better
fighter, as Commodus is really a coward. When Commodus loses his
sword, the army soldiers refuse to give him another, probably because of
what they saw him do just before the fight. And so Maximus gets his
As a result, he fulfills his promise, freeing the imprisoned
senator and freeing all the slaves. I do wonder how he will pay for
that. The owners of those slaves will certainly want compensation.
After having been to Rome, I must say that although the sets
looked like the models that they were in the far shots, they had a wonderful
model of the city. It was wonderful to see the Coliseum in its full
splendor, from the smooth outside walls to the slats raising out of the
floor, and the pens for the slaves underneath.
The battle scenes were well staged, to the point where it seemed
that they were all around us. The acting was terrific, except from Commodus, but I suspect that comes from the character, not the actor.
He was probably supposed to be unhinged -and to look it. The music
was also great, from the opening pre-battle, which brought the tension
up, to the final duel. Only the direction seemed to be off, and it
was such that it was noticeable. The fast-motion scenes were really
only the beginning. It seemed that a lot of stuff was being filmed
from poor angles, or -I don't quite know what was wrong with the directing,
but it was missing something.
But the weak direction was more than made up for by the lead
character's acting (and his slave friends, as well as his former assistant),
and by the music. I would watch this movie again on video, preferably
on a very large screen.