Gladiator is an example of a film that doesn’t do anything special, but pretty much everything it does feature is done well. You’ve seen almost all of this movie in other movies before — it’s definitely missing something to make itself unique and stand out from other similar films — but it’s worth watching just because it’s well-made and rarely gets boring. Plus, winning the Best Picture Oscar for 2000 doesn’t hurt.
We begin with a battle scene which I only hope wasn’t supposed to inspire or make us care, because it didn’t do that for me. Our setting is Ancient Rome, and this scene shows us how the Roman General named Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a pretty solid soldier and leader, as he gets his squad to win the battle against some German fellows. Maximus is then talked to by the current Caesar (Richard Harris). Seeing as how Harris’ character believes that he is dying, he asks Maximus to take over the job once he departs from this world, despite having a son named Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who is eager to take the position.
Maximus is reluctant, although whether he would or would not accept the job doesn’t matter, as Commodus kills his father in the middle of the night and gets the job thanks to being next in line for the title. This makes him the villain of the story, as he is a greedy character who also sentences Maximus to death for not shaking his hand. Being our hero, Maximus escapes, but ends up being captured and forced into the slave trade, which he took with good graces, never really complaining about it. I found that weird, but hey, he found out that his family was killed, so maybe he was suffering from depression — something that wouldn’t be diagnosed back then, nor would it anyway as he’s now a slave. Too bad for him, I suppose.
Even though his squad won the battle in the first scene, there were a couple of times when he was knocked down and was almost killed; his squadron saved him in these situations. Once becoming a slave, he is forced to become a gladiator, someone who is forced ot fight in an arena, and is expected to die. As a gladiator, he becomes an unstoppable force, rarely even getting hit, and it never seemed like he could be killed.
The plot follows Maximus’ attempts to get all the way back to the Colloseum and kill Commodus, effectively getting revenge for the betrayal that he and his family suffered. He meets some friends inside the gladiatorial arena, such as Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and Hagen (Ralf Möeller). Their purpose is largely to sit back and watch Maximus slay the people they’ve been sent to fight, as, after all, he is unstoppable.
Basically, it’s a story about a man both wanting revenge, and also wanting to recover from the lowest point in his life. See, nothing you haven’t seen before. But it’s done well enough to keep it interesting, while also feeling somewhat fresh if you aren’t sick of the Ancient Greece time period. It’s not entertaining all the way through though, especially in the plots involving Commodus’ sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), who exists largely to pump up Maximus, which is something that I didn’t think he needed anyway.
There’s a fair bit more action in Gladiator than I thought there would be going in, although despite the choreography being fine, it does get dull after a while. It’s just sword fight after sword fight here, with little deviation from that idea. Oh, there’s also a fist fight too, but that comes late and is even less interesting. There needed to be more creativity here, or less action scenes in total, because it does become uninteresting after a while. Granted, I don’t know how much more inventive you could get given the time frame, which is why skipping some of the lesser fights might have been a good idea.
Russell Crowe makes a good soldier here, even if he did seem invincible at times. At one point, his shoulder is cut open, but despite the remarkable amount of blood he loses, the worst that happens is he blacks out for a bit. He doesn’t seem to care about what blood loss does to a person, especially after he started to lose consciousness, and then realized that wouldn’t be smart at the moments, so he picked up his pace. A later scene partially rectifies this issue, but even then, he still manages to fight a great deal before the blood loss catches up to him.
The best thing that Gladiator does is bring us into its setting and get us involved in the era. It sets a mood, a time period, and it sticks with it and makes it feel real. That’s one of the things that has to be almost perfect, and Gladiator hits the nail on the head in this area. It’s an immersive film, and it largely succeeds as a whole production because it encapsulates us so well.
Gladiator isn’t anything special or unique, but what it does bring to the table is all well-done. There’s not much wrong with it, even if its lead character seems far too unlikely to die, meaning that there’s little-to-no tension during the often boring action scenes. But it sets a great mood and has a solid plot, which makes it a worthwhile watch, even if I don’t think it was worthy of the 2000 Oscar for Best Picture.