Gladiator (2000) (R)

Although its fan base is incredibly daunting and a tad aggressive, channeling their favorite moments from the movie, "Gladiator" is a simplistic movie, one based on revenge and honor.
Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a loyal general to Rome. He's an avid fan-boy of the current emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) and does everything in his power—which seems immense—to bring glory for the emperor. The movie's beginning shows us a battle that would seem to be the average battle waged between the Romans and whoever they happen to be fighting. Naturally, the Romans win under the great instruction and courage-inducing actions of their superhero general Maximus.
At the end of the battle, we flash over to Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), the son and daughter of Marcus Aurelius. They have an interesting relationship...but more on that later. Commodus seems power hungry and a bit whiny...we'll see a lot of him in the movie.
Maximus is reveling in the glory of winning the war, the company is joined by Commodus who doesn't seem to unhappy for missing the war, and the homesick feelings take over Maximus. All he wants to do is go home to his family and be with his wife and son; but the emperor has different ideas for him. Marcus Aurelius is not pleased with the injustice that he sees in his son and he offers the Caesar-ship to Maximus who is shocked by the is Commodus when he hears about it. He does what every love-hungry son does with his father gives the throne to a loyal general instead of honoring the heir—he kills him.
Now Rome falls to him and he asks for Maximus' allegiance—he's given the proverbial cold shoulder. Irate at being spurned, Commdus demands the head of Maximus, who shows us once again his superhero powers and escapes the men going to kill him. Fleeing back home, Maximus experiences panic and comes to his estate with the full realization that his worst fears have become true—his wife and son have been killed.
After burying them, Maximus is kidnapped by slave traders who use him as meat for the gladiator rings.
Not to be pushed around, Maximus remains very quiet until his gets in the arena and he stretches his muscles—they don't have any kryptonite so he's safe.
Hell-bent on revenge, Maximus knows that he will have to kill Commodus or die trying, and we as the audience are completely fine with this.
Though the movie jumps around and its characters are never really nailed down—I think the worst offender is Lucilla who ranges from being scared for her life and from the advances are her incestuous brother to being a sexual being who radiates seduction towards both Maximus and Commodus...the writing justifies this a little bit on with the "oh, she does anything to survive" line. Yes, it's stupid, but it does work—the film remains very entertaining.
If you read Roger Ebert's review of "Gladiator" which he really hated, his point was that the movie was too depressing.
My thoughts: so?
Ebert compared the movie with Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because he assumed that all gladiator movies are good fun and have happy endings.
The movie is meant to be dark which is why impending death is so often foreshadowed throughout the entirely of the film. Lines about mortality never cease to flow from the characters' mouths. Death is a huge part of the film.
Revenge is also a large part as is honor. Marcus Aurelius, in angelic hyperbole, states that he wishes something better for Rome. His longing is that the Senate should be reinstated instead of the monarchy...democracy is good and all that other stuff.
Maximus is loyal to Marcus Aurelius even after the Caesar's death, his mind is stuck in the rut that is the philosophy of the emperor.
Yet he shows this by kicking major butt.
The film, which went on the win 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor, really is nothing spectacular in film making. Ridley Scott has been known to make visually stunning films and "Gladiator" is a very attractive movie, but it doesn't compare to his science fiction masterpieces. It's a film entirely based on the attraction you feel towards Maximus, which is an easy likening to calculate. Maximus, much like SuperMan, is a moral hero. He doesn't kill unless he has to, and he has to...a lot.
Sold to a man named Proximo (Oliver Reed, the best part of the movie) Maximus sees a silver lining here—he may be able to get back to Rome and kill Commodus. A relationship grows between Maximus and Proximo and the former lets the latter know of his intentions. Feeling slightly indebted to Marcus Aurelius, Proximo will do his best to help Maximus achieve his goal...but it may not be enough.
The action of "Gladiator" is fun. It's mindless and sometimes enjoyable, the most exciting fight having the arena release tigers from its floor. The thought behind the movie has everyone acting a little bit eccentrically and beyond themselves. Maximus is beyond fault, Lucilla is incredibly smart and conniving, Commodus is too evil, and Marcus Aurelius is a saint. It places the film just out of arm's reach of the viewer, making the overlying arcs of honor and revenge the palpable meat of the film.
Shot with entertainment in mind, Scott's film is a success albeit not a perfect one nor his best.
Russell Crowe is likable, Phoenix is dislikable, and Nielsen is a woman...there, you have your formula.
There are moments in the film that I find eye-rolling-worthy; but the sheer epicness of the piece is hard to ignore.
It does come down to the fact that the film masquerades as truth when the gladiator known as Maximus never existed and Commodus didn't kill his father. Commodus' demise came at the hand of assassination, which seems like a much more fitting death for such a screwed up man, but the audience demands the revenge. For being rooted in such realism, "Gladiator" remains a fairy tale period piece; but a riveting one at that.

Score: ★★★

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