Films

The 'Gladiator' sequel you didn’t ask for looks like it’s happening anyway

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Mike Rampton
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Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s Oscar-winning historical epic is getting a long-in-the-works sequel. Is this a good idea?

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

What a line. What a film. Despite production being somewhat chaotic, with the script being rewritten on the fly, Gladiator ended up winning the 2000 Oscar for Best Picture as well as a Best Actor gong for star Russell Crowe, and inspiring something of a sword-and-sandal revival. The two main characters, Crowe’s Maximus and Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus, both die at the end of the film, so any kind of follow-up seemed unlikely, if not impossible.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, the only emperor named after a toilet

That didn’t stop people trying though. Musician Nick Cave was at one point hired to write a treatment, and came up with a completely bonkers idea that involved Maximus battling through the afterlife. The Guardian’s synopsis of the script sounds impressively, century-straddlingly inventive: “Crowe’s Maximus meddles with Roman gods in the afterlife, is reincarnated, defends early Christians, reunites with his son, and ultimately lives forever – leading tanks in the second world war and even mucking around in the modern-day Pentagon.”

While that would obviously have totally ruled, the tale of Russell Crowe biffing people in the mush through every conflict in history (like a temporally-independent version of South Park’s Russell Crowe Fightin’ Around The World) was seen to be too far-fetched and tonally different from the first film. The sequel that is actually happening is a more reined-in affair, with barely a tank to be seen.

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Writer Peter Craig is working on a script for Scott to direct, following the story of Lucius, the son of Lucilla (Connie Neilsen) from the first film. 

In a pretty long sentence, Deadline says: “The youth was the nephew of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the weaselly son of Roman leader Marcus Aurelius who murdered his father, seized the throne and wound up in the gladiator ring with Maximus, who though mortally wounded, skewered the emperor before fading into the great beyond to reunite with his slain wife and son”. 

Lucius had a strong impression left on him by Commodus, so will presumably be the antagonist in the film. There is no word on whether Neilsen, next appearing in Wonder Woman 1984, will reprise her role. Derek Jacobi and Djimon Hounsou’s characters also made it through the first film alive, so could plausibly return. 

There is no set timescale on the film, and Scott has several projects on the go already, so it might be a while before we see this. Do we even want to? Twenty years on and with few returning characters, would the whole thing be better if it was just an unrelated ass-kicking Roman fighting film? Prometheus would probably have been better received if it wasn’t connected to the Alien mythos - couldn’t Scott take a lesson from that and make, just, another really great film that happened to have Romans in it? The Roman Empire lasted for some 400 years - there are (presumably) loads of stories he could tell that would scratch the itch of returning to stabbings, shields and wacky helmets.

Or he could go 200 years or so further back, and make a film about an elephant-loving Carthaginian general. Loads of people (including Vin Diesel) have tried to get films about Hannibal made, and if anyone could really do a great job, it’s Ridley Scott. It would be like Gladiator but bigger, with slightly different armour and elephants in place of tigers. The one flaw in that idea is, he’s already made a film called Hannibal: his follow-up to Gladiator, about Anthony Hopkins eating people. What are the odds?

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(Pic: Universal)

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Mike Rampton

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