Have you ever said to yourself, “Gee, I’d kind of like to watch Ben-Hur, but I was really hoping for something shorter – not much shorter, mind you, I’m still looking to clock in a solid two-and-a-half hours – and while we’re at it, maybe we can take out the Jesus stuff and throw in a little more incest. And tigers. Give me all of the tigers.” Well, do I have the movie for you.
I’m not sure whether to think of Gladiator as senseless violence in the guise of provocative drama, or as a modern Shakespearean tragedy. Just like Ben-Hur, it tells the story of a man who starts out a friend to people in power until he becomes an outcast. Enslaved, he finds a special talent that enables him to work his way back through the ranks and eventually exact revenge. The film touches on themes of loyalty and otherness, but seems to be less interested in complex emotions than in base feelings: rage, lust, grief. Why waste time thinking about stuff if you can spend it disemboweling a guy with a blunt short sword?
Spectacle it is, but it is entertaining spectacle. In the same way that you watch the chariot race in Ben-Hur not because you’re not sure how it will turn out but because of the sweet ride, Gladiator is a film without much in the way of surprises but plenty of massive battles to hold your attention. Of course there’s a good guy – the dude who turns down the chance at dictatorship because he just wants to get home to his wife – and a bad guy, the entitled, bitchy son. And of course the good guy is going to carry on, determined, and defeat the bad guy by turning his fatal flaw against him. And the bodies will pile up, and whoever’s left will be there for the sequel.
Fun fact: apparently, they actually considered making a sequel, Gladiator 2: The Gladdening. (Actual name may have varied.)
I’m trying something different this round. Instead of stopping at two films that fit one theme, I’ve added a third one into the mix. My uniting theme is “chariot,” though it could have been Roman if I’d left out the running movie. There is definitely a chariot in Gladiator, which certainly justifies the whole thing. It’s all arbitrary, anyway, isn’t it?
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: Aren’t you entertained?