"Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."
Stars: Plot Holes:
Spoiler Warning: This review gives away some major plot points, so don't read it if you want to be surprised. Although, if surprise is what you're looking for, leave this movie on the store shelf. The only surprise is that a director as talented as Ridley Scott can make a movie this bad.
The movie starts out with a blood battle that tries, and fails, to be the opening battle of Saving Private Ryan with pointy sticks. After a sufficient amount of hacking and slashing the hero, Maximus (Russell Crowe) visits the emperor Marcus (Richard Harris) who proclaims him to be "The Protector of Rome." But Marcus' son, Commodus, (Joaquin Phoenix) is angry to see that Crowe can act, so tries to have Maximus killed in the woods. If he had succeeded, the movie would have just been a twenty minute clip. . . and we all be better off. Unfortunately Maximus escapes without Commodus finding out about it. Then Commodus, evidently bent on executing any talented actors in the movie, kills his father, goes back to Rome and chews up the scenery like a first year acting student.
Maximus oh so conveniently gets sold as a slave to someone in the gladiator business just as Commodus decides to bring gladiators back to the coliseum. Wearing a helmet that covers his face and going by the name The Spaniard, he wins a few battles he was supposed to lose, which makes the emperor curious. He discovers The Spaniard's identity by the clever ruse of ordering him to take off his helmet, but doesn't have him killed. Instead he allows him to become a hero to the people. In a final scene that's just plain stupid, the emperor, having watched Maximus defeat every fighter in the coliseum, hops into the ring to fight him himself. Yeah, right.
The lucky coincidences get more and more annoying as they pile up. The emperor's acting stinks like a Commodus. The effects are frequently cheesy. The Gladiator scenes come across as WWF tryouts on amateur night. The story is predictable and free of surprises. But the worst of it all is the movie has no heart. You won't want the good guy to win so much as you just want the thing to be over and done with.
© 2001 Dave Hitt