It’s another bloody power struggle for Rome’s future in Gladiator II trailer

Paul Mescal and Pedro Pascal star in director Ridley Scott’s long-awaited sequel, Gladiator II.

Ridley Scott’s epic 2000 historical drama Gladiator was a blockbuster hit that has become a classic over the ensuing two decades, thanks to powerful performances and spectacular special effects—especially in the gladiator arena. The director has long wanted to make a sequel, and we’re finally getting Gladiator II later this year. Paramount Pictures just dropped the first trailer, and it promises to be just as much of a visual feast, as a new crop of power players (plus a couple of familiar faces) clash over the future of Rome.

(Spoilers for 2000’s Gladiator below.)

For those who inexplicably haven’t seen the original: Russell Crowe starred as Maximus, a Roman general who leads his army to victory against Germanic tribes on behalf of his emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). The aging emperor wishes Maximus to succeed him and restore the Roman Republic, passing over his own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus secretly murders his father instead and proclaims himself emperor, executing Maximus’ wife and son because Maximus would not acknowledge his rule. Commodus also harbors squicky incestuous longings for his sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), mother to Lucius (Spencer Treat Clark) and former lover of Maximus.

Maximus escapes his own execution and ends up being sold by slave traders to gladiator trainer Proximus (Oliver Reed), who tells him he can earn his freedom by “winning the crowd” during the gladiator games in Rome. And win the crowd he does. Who could forget the epic scene where the gladiators are forced to re-enact the Battle of Zama, when the Romans defeated the Carthaginians? With Maximus in command, the tables are turned and the “Carthaginians” prevail in the re-enactment. Maximus is ultimately able to exact his revenge by killing Commodus in the arena, dying himself to join his wife and child in the afterlife.

<em>Gladiator II</em> focuses on the grown-up Lucius, originally played by Spencer Treat Clark.
Enlarge / Gladiator II focuses on the grown-up Lucius, originally played by Spencer Treat Clark.

YouTube/Paramount Pictures

Gladiator received much critical praise, grossing $464 million globally and receiving 12 Oscar nominations. It won five: Best Picture, Best Actor (Crowe), Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Costume Design. Scott was already planning for either a prequel or a sequel the following year, with the idea for a sequel centered on an older version of Lucius, hinging on the secret of his biological father (strongly hinted to be Maximus in the first film). But when Dreamworks was sold to Paramount in 2006, the Gladiator sequel project was shelved. Paramount finally green-lit the project in November 2018 with a production budget of $165 million. (That ballooned to a rumored $310 million during filming.)

Strength and honor

Gladiator II does indeed center on Lucius Verus (Paul Mescal), son of Lucilla and former heir to the Roman Empire, given that his father (also named Lucius Verus) was once a co-emperor of Rome. Lucius hasn’t been seen in Rome for 15 years. Instead, he’s been living in a small coastal town in Numidia with his wife and child. Like Maximus before him, he is captured by the Roman army and forced to become a gladiator. Pedro Pascal plays Marcus Acacius, a Roman general who trained under Maximus, tasked with conquering North Africa. Although the young Lucius once idolized Maximus, Marcus Acacius apparently will be a symbol of everything Lucius hates.

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