Paul WS Anderson’s sword and sandal epic came in for a thorough critical pasting on its cinematic release, but on DVD at least, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure in its galumphing, Sunday afternoon telly-ish sort of way. I’m sure that many liberties have been taken with historical detail and it’s so evidently a Gladiator-lite remake it almost hurts, but nevertheless the narrative carried me through to the explosive conclusion.

Events start back in Roman-occupied Britannia where a young boy, Milo, watches his family summarily slaughtered by Roman centurion, Corvus (Keifer Sutherland.) Within a few minutes of screen time, Milo has grown into Kit Harington, a fearsome gladiator known simply as ‘The Celt.’ Able to dispatch a whole army of opponents in curiously bloodless fashion (Anderson clearly chasing the PG13 certificate) Milo must be the most politely spoken barbarian in history but to make up for the deficiency, he sports a six pack you could break coconuts on. Milo’s abilities in the arena get him chosen to complete in the city of Pompeii and en route, he bumps into Cassia (Emily Browning) who is clearly impressed by his horse-whispering skills (and no doubt the afore-mentioned six pack.) Milo arrives at the arena where he is destined to fight the Emperor’s champion, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.) When Corvus, now a powerful senator arrives on the scene, with his sights well and truly fixed on Cassia, Milo spots an opportunity to avenge himself for the loss of his parents. But ominous rumbles are beginning to issue from the direction of Vesuvius…

The special effect maelstrom that’s subsequently unleashed is (on the small screen at least) pretty impressive, while the human characters run around doing their best to make an impression amidst the carnage. Sutherland chews the scenery in entertaining style as Corvus, complete with creepy English accent, but it’s sad to see somebody of the stature of Carrie Anne Moss relegated to the thankless role of Cassia’s mum, with little to say and even less to do. Obviously, history has long ago established that this isn’t going to end well for any of the characters so those hoping for an uplifting finale will be disappointed, but for those seeking diversion, this film passes 105 minutes in agreeable enough style.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney


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