Gladiator Commentary

David Hronick

This article contains movie spoilers!

Gladiator won the best picture award in 2000, so I watched to see if it was really that good.
The movie begins with a battle sequence between Maximus, general of a Roman army, and an army that Rome is fighting for reasons unknown. The film is trying to show you that Maximus is an intelligent leader and skilled strategist, although it really just shows how dumb the other side is. For instance, the opposing army comes charging in from the extremely flammable forest, while Maximus’s army is standing in an open clearing with plenty of room to set up equipment. Also of note: Maximus’s army is wearing actual armor, wielding actual weapons; their opponents are wearing coats and carrying baseball bats. After the battle, he goes to the emperor where he washes his blood soaked hands in a bowl that is already full of bloody water, then goes to meet with the emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Here we learn that Maximus was drafted into the army and never chose this life. He makes it very clear to the emperor that all he wants to do now that they have won the war is go back to his farm and retire, preferably without getting attacked by the Avengers. The emperor, however, chose Maximus to succeed him and take the throne upon his death. This is awkward because Marcus Aurelius’s son, Commodus, was REALLY looking forward to being emperor (which is understandable). Maximus cannot refuse but is distraught at his inability to return to his family. He misses them so much, in fact, that he has made little statue figurines of them, which is kind of weird when he kisses the wife figurine and basically ends up with her whole head in his mouth. So Commodus arrives, and Marcus Aurelius informs him that he will not be the next emperor. Commodus is about to do something that makes him seem pretty evil, so I want to point out that Marcus Aurelius is maybe the worst father ever. Throughout Commondus’s life, his father has been cruel and cold, never showing his son any love. Pretending to accept this final slight, they hug, but Commodus then suffocates Marcus Aurelius, which I don’t entirely blame him for. When Maximus comes to see Marcus’s funeral it is super obvious that Commodus killed him. Honestly, I’m surprised all of Rome didn’t immediately figure out who did it; that’s how bad of a liar Commodus is. Maximus, seeing what any 3 year old could instantly see, tells one of his servants to get his sword, but he is immediately betrayed by some guy named Quintus. This is supposed to be some huge betrayal, but there aren’t really any hints of a relationship between these two besides some dialogue at the beginning. Maximus’s execution is delayed and sent far away for plot reasons where they do not even kill Maximus. He catches the sword BY THE BLADE mid-swing and somehow kills 4 soldiers; one he kills by throwing the sword, it spinning multiple times in the air, and it somehow still has the force to pierce a soldier’s armor. Then he somehow knows the way back to his farm from the middle of nowhere, finding his family dead. The scene is done beautifully, and it was fairly moving. The music goes from suspenseful to a tragic opera song as he slowly discovers his dead family. The scene is undercut a little bit by Maximus’s drooling, but other than that it was pretty well done. After Maximus passes out, he is captured by slave dealers and brought to basically an older version of Maximus. He is forced into being a gladiator and, surprise, surprise, does great. I thought the action sequence was a little boring; however, they make up for it later in the movie.
Meanwhile Commodus is creeping around and complaining about how life is unfair to him. He doesn’t want there to be a senate to oppose his power, and we know this because he spends the majority of this part of the movie complaining to his sister about it. So Maximus is now at the Colosseum because he did so well, and there is no fight montage displaying his greatness like in other fighting films. Honestly, I was surprised not to hear “Eye of the Tiger” or “You’re the Best Around.” I mean, obviously it’s not correct to the film’s time, but it would have been cool. Anyway, in Maximus’s first fight he is already rocking the boat by reenacting a battle incorrectly. He does this by winning. When Commodus wants to meet the gladiator who won, he somehow can’t tell that Maximus is the man under the mask. The mask isn’t even that big either; you can still see most of his face. Maximus could have used this opportunity to kill Commudus, but the emperor’s nephew is standing a little too close for Maximus’s liking. However, this scene does include a pretty cool speech given by Maximus about vengeance. We get another scene of Commodus complaining to his sister, but this time it’s about Maximus. He decides to pit Maximus against one of his greatest gladiators, sure he can’t kill him. But his greatest gladiator was wearing a helmet that had the world’s smallest eye-holes and was probably blind for most of the fight. (Note: In some research I did, apparently some fighters did fight Daredevil-style completely blind.) Maximus decides not to kill the fighter, and when the emperor tells him to kill him, he still doesn’t, leading the crowds to call him “Maximus the merciful.” This leads to some more complaining from Commodus, and his sister is so tired of his complaining, she helps Maximus plot his murder. After some temporary disagreement, they settle on Maximus escaping and bringing back his army to kill Commodus. But Commodus’s nephew gets in the way of their plans again and basically tells him their entire plan. Commodus’s sister, who I am still calling Commodus’s sister because I can’t remember her name, needs to rid herself of all the males in her family. Commodus reveals that he knows his sister’s plan to her by creepily telling a story to his nephew and says the words “busy little bee” far too often. Maximus’s escape is stopped, and Commodus stabs Maximus to weaken him in the planned fight between him and Maximus. Commodus is so out of shape that he loses to a man who is bleeding out, and he dies on the ground after losing a strength match to a half-dead man. Maximus then also dies, which the entire viewing audience knew was going to happen because this movie has mentioned death in every other sentence. It’s like watching a rom-com and not realizing that the two main characters won’t fall in love by the end. All of the characters assemble in the center of the pit like a Broadway musical; Commodus’s sister says some words about Maximus, and the movie ends with Maximus in the afterlife with his family.