Overview:  A Roman General has his family murdered, is left for dead, and returns to Rome as an enslaved gladiator to seek revenge and save the Empire.  DreamWorks/Universal; 2000 Rated R; 155 minutes.

Ummmm…: This ain’t History class, folks.  If you grade your movies sharply against historical accuracy, I can assure you that this is not the film for you.  General historical consensus suggests that the Maximus who exists in this movie did not exist in ancient Rome.  However, that does not stop Russell Crowe from giving the character considerable screen-life.  For the purpose of cinematic celebration, it is more important that Maximus exists credibly for the film’s two and a half hour runtime.

Raaaah: The battle scenes set a new standard for film epics (raising the bar established by Braveheart just a few years prior). With fast-paced camera cuts and precise sound editing, director Ridley Scott is not coy about the main draw of his film.  The magnitude and scale of the CGI-enhanced Coliseum and crowd heighten the intensity of the all-out carnage that unfolds within.  With the story having given Maximus so much for which to fight, viewers will find themselves rabidly and cheerfully invested in the violence.  The first confrontation between Maximus and his betrayer Commodus (son and murderer of Marcus Aurelie and portrayed here as pathetic and loath-able by a young Joaquin Phoenix) serves as a catalyst for the audience’s collective bloodlust.  While we burn to witness Maximus’s revenge and Commodus’s murder with immediacy, we’ll forgive the wait if you give us more fights, but we want tigers too this time!  We want our catharsis!  It is in this manner of heightened excitement that Scott establishes his movies most important metaphorical parallel:  the fervor and thirst for carnage is shared between the crowds on either side of the screen; we are Rome.

Yes, yes. Yes, we're entertained. Relax for a second. We're very entertained.

Yes, yes. Yes, we’re entertained. Relax for a second. We’re very entertained.

Awwww:  The film’s conclusion, in which Maximus is martyred for the sake of the kingdom and reunited with his family in the after-life, is tacky, predictable, necessary, and certain.  Perhaps Scott and his writing staff were too exhausted from investing in the calamity to piece together a more impressive resolution.  Certainly, as viewers, we are too spent to care. 

Whew:  An indulgence to be consumed mindlessly and enjoyed with the understanding that it is mostly artificial preservatives, this movie is to classic film (and Oscar winners, incidentally), what the Big Mac is to fine dining.

Rejected Taglines:

Gladiator: Heaven is just a flare lens away.

Gladiator:  It’ll take you years to like Joaquin Phoenix again.

Gladiator: It’s that Kid Rock Video you keep seeing on TV, you know, with the swords and tigers!

Grade:  B-