Why is Russell Crowe not in the upcoming Ridley Scott Gladiator movie? As Paramount and Scott Free prepare for the new venture into the world of ancient Rome once again, with a late 2024 release, it seems that they’ve settled on making this a sequel.
Maximus Decimus Meridius meets his end at the end of the original 2000 epic historical drama film after the general is betrayed by the new Emperor Commodus, has his family killed, and is forced into slavery. After serving in the gladiatorial arena, and getting his revenge on Commodus, Maximus succumbs to his wounds and dies a hero.
Obviously, Crowe can’t reprise his role in a sequel. It’s been twenty-three years and his age pretty much works against him as a leading protagonist. His career now is relegated to playing mentors, which he does quite well in ‘The Man of Steel’, villains, again not bad in ‘Unhinged’, and third-rate superheroes.
But for a movie like Gladiator, there does exist a unique chance for Crowe to shine, where his age can be an advantage and work for him to tell a new story with fresh themes and keep true to the same sword and sandal colosseum action of the original.
The story is there. It already exists. A prequel is a perfect vehicle for a return of Russell Crowe to the franchise.
Whatever the writers of the sequel come up with, having Lucius become a slave, or get involved with Roman Imperial intrigue and scandal, and politics, not too dissimilar to early drafts of the Gladiator screenplays, nothing would come close to the potential of answering that overriding question when watching the first film. Why is Maximus so good as soon as he hits the sand of the arena? Sure, he’s a seasoned warrior under the command of Marcus Aurelius, but how does he also know how to ‘work’ the crowd, collaborate with the other gladiators, and use the game to his political and strategic advantage?
He’s obviously done this before. Plus, the emperor Aurelius has a soft spot for him for a reason. When the Colosseum crowd fell silent and gasped when he revealed he was Maximus Decimus Meridius, they knew who he was, and not only as a renowned general who fought the Gauls but as someone who they’d seen or heard of fighting in the arena before.
It begins off the coast of Mauretania Tingitana, where Fabius Decimus Hispanius is assisting in a sea raid against a rebel legion. After the battle in the port, Fabius uncovers a plot by Avidius Cassius to usurp the imperial throne but is blackmailed into turning a blind eye due to the gambling debts he’s accumulated.
Fabius returns home to Tarraco, Iberia where he is met by his oldest son and taken to his estate. He discovers his other two sons bullying the youngest of the boys, Maximus. Fabius scolds them and teases the “Runt’ before drinking himself into a stupor.
At Cassuis’s request, using forged documentation and false witnesses, the local praetor sends a force of Vigiles to repossess the estate. A scuffle with the boys turns violent and the three older boys are slaughtered and Fabius is beaten and arrested.
During his trial, Maximus attempts to enter the courthouse but is mocked and beaten away by the Vigiles. A known gambler, drunkard, and womanizer, Fabius is tried and convicted, with a lashing and exile from Tarraco as punishment. As for the estate, he needs to pay the debt if it is to be returned. When eventually released, he has no money to his name, only the mule and cart salvaged by Maximus. They travel from town to town begging and scamming for food and shelter.
On the outskirts of Narbo, the travelers are ambushed by bandits. Maximus rescues his father from the ex-soldiers turned robbers, proving his ability to fight. Fabius tells his son about his past as a warrior and impresses on Maximus that he too is a natural fighter.
At Massillia, the father forces Maximus to compete in the local gladiatorial games. He gambles on the outcome, successfully. When Maximus discovers this, Fabius promises him the money will be used to buy back their land.
From there they go on the professional circuit, Maximus disguised as a slave, and Fabius as his lanista. At one point, Fabius convinces Maximus to fight a bull, since they have a family history of breeding bulls. But instead of saving the winnings, Fabius gambles it away and when he loses, spends the rest on booze and prostitutes. Again, Maximus uncovers this which causes a rift between them.
At Pietas Julia, Maximus meets a girl from a rich family and opts to enter into fights at a private function. Fabius encounters Cassius, who is planning on assassinating him. After seeing his sorry and degenerate state, Cassius no longer fears Fabius as a threat, so he offers to buy out Maximus’ contract as a gladiator.
Once in Rome, Maximus meets Alexander, a fellow Gladiator indentured to Cassius’ Ianista, and a Christian. He helps Maximus prepare for the games. Fabius, having squandered his money, travels to Rome to watch his son fight, and to bet on it. Cassius, who thought that Fabius would have drunk himself to death by now, discovers him roaming the gambling quarter. Worried that the Emporer would learn of his plotting from Fabius, he again confronts him. Fabius wants his property back, but this is not possible anymore, it had been already sold off. As a counteroffer, he is offered to bet against his son since the game will be rigged against his son. Alexander was bribed to ensure Maximus loses in the arena.
In the final battle in front of the Emperor, Maximus is set up to go down badly. At first, Fabius refuses to watch the fight, but his emotions take the better of him. He approaches the Praetorian guard and informs them about the plot by Cassius. When he sees his son get wounded and about to be slain, Fabius steps into the arena and fights on to the death, winning the favor of the crowd and of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who spares Maximus after being informed about the treachery and Fabius’ service.
As mentioned earlier, it has already been written, inferred directly from the original film. He’s called the Spaniard, he knows the fighting arena inside and out, doesn’t trust Christians so is still a pagan, and he’s close to Marcus Aurelius.
It is a story that follows similar beats to the first movie, but it also explores relationships between father and son, weakness and betrayal, and why Aurelius loves and trusts Maximus more than his son. It gives a seasoned and older actor like Crowe something to sink his teeth into, instead of trying to fake an Italian accent and fight evil demons in schlock horror jumps scare movies, maybe win him another award.
But he’ll need to get fit for this finale. It’s just one fight scene but it should be one hell of a gladiatorial duel.