After a Roman general named Maximus is about to become Emperor of Rome, he is betrayed by his brother named Commodus who murders his family. He is forced into slavery where he comes back as a Gladiator and fights his way up to seek his revenge.
The action is definitely the highlight of this film. I think that it's really good. The fights aren't choreographed all too well since they have shaky cam, but I think the fights were shot that way on purpose to show how Gladiators fought by using sheer aggression and desperation. Every time a character gets stabbed, you feel the pain as the stab always feels very realistic without ever feeling over-the-top or ridiculous. The Coliseum looks realistic, and it gave the fights a claustrophobic feeling. During one fighting sequence, they were reenacting "The Battle of Zama". A large number of Gladiators were in the middle of the Coliseum and they were surrounded by enemies in chariots. Shortly after the battle started, a few Gladiators were quickly killed off, and it gave the fighting a lot of tension after the viewer learned how much of a disadvantage Maximus had. That was my favorite fight scene in the film.
Considering that Ridley Scott is usually pretty good with cinematography (Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down), I had no concern about the cinematography, and I expected it to be really good. I was right. The city of Rome was perfectly captured in the film. Many tableau's of Rome and the Coliseum were beautiful to look at. Rome looked vast, majestic, and full of people. Even the CGI shots were impressive and blended into the film seamlessly. They hold up pretty well today. The only issue I have with the film on a technical level was with its soundtrack that was composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. Some songs felt like they were ripped off of by many other action films. Especially the parts where it sounded like someone was singing in a different language. I've heard that in many other films before and it's starting to feel a bit unoriginal. Other than that, the film worked pretty well from a technical standpoint.
I don't think that Russell Crowe should've won an Oscar. His performance wasn't bad. Crowe himself is fine. However, his role is about as basic as you can get for a tough guy role. Any actor with some talent could've done what he did. Speaking of Maximus's character, I could not care for him at all. He's just dour and dull for the entire film, even before his family is killed off. He's bland and unsympathetic from the get-go, and he only gets more revenge filled as the movie continues on. I was just given a shell of a character to try and get behind. I could not care for his character for that reason. I could not care about any of the other protagonists in the film. When a main character died, I didn't care that much for them as I felt like I had just been introduced to them. Their deaths just sort of came and went by. Also, I was not as moved by its ending as I expected I would be before going into this film.
Looking around a bit, I've seen several reviewers bring up that its plot of betrayal and revenge has been done to death. If I felt that way, I would most likely have a bigger issue with sympathizing with Maximus. As of now, however, I can't think of any movies which borrowed its plotline that came out before this one was released, and I have yet to see any reviewers name any films with a similar plot as this one. So, until I do, I'm going to put that criticism aside.
In conclusion, I wasn't a fan of this movie. It's a real shame, because I was hoping that I could relive my childhood memories of it. I can appreciate it for impressing me with its action and its technical aspect. The action was definitely the highlight of the film, and Rome was also very beautiful to look at. However, much of it seemed wasted since it failed in the most important area: Its characters. Maximus felt like a very generic shell of a character and he seemed very uninteresting. I will always love Ridley Scott though, even though I disliked one of his most popular films.
These characters show two drastically different forms of growth and development throughout the film which causes you to take sides and become invested in the fates of the characters.