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Exclusive: Script review of Gladiator 2

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Monday, July 20, 2009

Released in 2000, Ridley Scott's Gladiator was the movie that made DreamWorks in the eyes of its peers. The film earned $457 million dollars worldwide at the box office and won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor statues for its star, Russell Crowe, playing the part of the Roman general-come-gladiator Maximus. And you know what happens when a film is a hit with the masses, don'tcha kids? Sure, it's sequel time. But how do you make a sequel to Gladiator when the film's main star dies at the end of the first picture?

If you're the screenwriter being paid to solve the problem there are two solutions staring you in the face: you go with a new character as your hero or you find a way to resurrect Crowe's Maximus. In the immediate years following the critical and commercial success of Gladiator both ideas were tried out. In the first go, DreamWorks paid screenwriter John Logan (Any Given Sunday, The Time Machine) to think up a sequel that was set 15 years after the death of Maximus and centered on the character of Lucius, the son of Connie Nielsen's Lucilla from the original Gladiator, who comes to discover that he's the illegitimate son of Crowe's Roman general. A couple of years pass by and no one's too excited at DreamWorks about Logan's script and so a decision is made to go back to the two main men responsible for the success of Gladiator, namely director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, and listen to their ideas for a sequel. The result was a screenplay by musician Nick Cave, someone who by definition of his main job exists outside of the typical Hollywood development circle. I wish that I knew the circumstances about how Cave got the job because I think that would be a story in itself to be told, but the long and short of it was that he cooked up an idea that brought Maximus back from the dead.

Deciding to bring Maximus back was the easy part. The harder part was to not make it suck and Nick Cave did that too. While his screenplay for Gladiator 2 takes an unorthodox approach to the solution of how to resurrect a dead man and make it plausible within the context of the story parameters established by the first film, Cave's ideas might also have caused DreamWorks to get cold feet for reasons that will become apparent as I get deeper into my review. Nevertheless, the screenplay serves as a great example for Hollywood and jaded bastards like myself that creativity isn't dead within the confines of the studio system of development. It may smell bad and look dead but like any zombie worth his or her weight, showbiz creativity is still shambling around. It just needs to bite more development execs and make more of its kind.

Fair warning: there's major spoilers ahead. Don't read any further if you don't want to know what happens in Nick Cave's Gladiator 2.

The story begins in a stark wilderness. Two thieves stumble across the lifeless body of Maximus, still decorated in his gladitorial armor. The pair strip off Maximus' breastplate and take his sword and play would-be gladiators, mocking Maximus' efforts in the Roman arena and cackling with laughter. A heartbeat later the eyes of the thief with the sword go wide and he drops to the ground, dead on impact, a spear jutting out from his back. As the second thief wearing Maximus' breastplate flees, Maximus' body draws a huge gasp of breath and comes alive. A mysterious figure comes into the weak soldier's field of vision, the one that threw the spear. The stranger's name is Mordecai and as the weak Roman soldier regains his strength, Mordecai comes to inform Maximus where he is: the afterlife. It's a bleak place, full of others that eke out a meager subsistence. The afterlife, or at least the region where Maximus and Mordecai find themselves at, is like our world in that people can be killed (again) and hunger and pain exist. One can't simply walk over the land and go to a different place as it's limitless. As Mordecai tells Maximus, the unfortunate souls that find themselves here soon lose all hope and simply have to exist day-to-day. Mordecai knows who Maximus is, having watched him fight to the death against the emperor, and came to find him when he entered the afterlife to help make the transition as painless as possible.

But the transition isn't one without pain for Maximus. Driven by visions of his murdered wife and young son waiting for him outside a home in the fields of Elysium, Maximus learns from Mordecai of a ruined temple where he is told there may be a way for him to move on from this hell. Upon entering Maximus lays his eyes on seven old men, some plagued with infirmities, others ridden with sickness. They are seven of the Roman gods, their health failing as their religion among mortals begins to wane. Confronting Jupiter, Maximus is given a task: slay Hephaestos, another Roman god that has forsaken their number, and the gods will reunite Maximus with his family. The gladiator agrees and sets out on a journey that nearly kills him. When he finally comes to stand in front of Hephaestos, Maximus finds another decrepit god but one that is at peace with his soon-to-be fate. Hephaestos tells Maximus that Jupiter tricked him, for Maximus' wife and son are no longer waiting for him in Elysium. Instead, Maximus's wife gave up her place so that she could send her slain son, Marius, back on Earth to live again. Hephaestos has the power to send Maximus back, to find his son and be reunited, but that he must be part of a larger plan that will reveal itself in time. Where Maximus returns would have made for an amazing visual scene as Cave has him rising from out of the body of a dying Christian believer being slain in a town square in Lyons, a smaller villa down the road from Rome. All around him Christians are being killed en masse by Roman citizens and soldiers, a frenzied mob. Grabbing the sword still sticking out of the body of the Christian that he just resurrected from (!), Maximus goes to work and begins defending himself and the terrorized Christians. Eventually Maximus is held down by the Roman soldiers and their leader, the now-adult Lucius (the nephew of Emperor Commodus from Gladiator) stands before him. Lucius recognizes Maximus from someplace but doesn't remember where. No matter, says Lucius, before ordering his guards to kill Maximus, but the more experienced Roman general breaks free and escapes into the hills surrounding the town.

All of this would have happened before the first half-hour of the film drew to a close.

As you can now begin to see, Cave's Gladiator 2 ideas are daring and occasionally provocative. The Roman concept of the afterlife, the dying Roman gods, Hephaestos' belief that there is only one true God and Maximus' rising from the body of a believer of Christ in his final living moment, all of these things probably caused a little cold sweat to break out on the upper lips of the execs at DreamWorks. If Ridley Scott had been the director of Gladiator 2 and Crowe had been back under the skin of Maximus it would have looked great on screen.

Further on in Cave's script Maximus comes to Rome in search of his son. He learns from Mordecai, who's followed him and no one but Maximus can see, that twenty years have slipped by since his death in the Colosseum. The emperor is an elderly man named Decius. Lucius, now in his early twenties, is the heir to the throne after Decius. Spreading throughout the city are enclaves of Christians, threatening the status quo of religious order that is the backbone of Rome. Lucius has extra reason to hate the Christians as his mother Lucilla (Connie Nielsen's character, referenced but not seen in Gladiator 2 as she's deceased) was one of their number. Lucius relishes in flushing out the followers of this cult, putting them to death in the Colosseum in various barbaric ways. Maximus learns that his son Marius was adopted by a teacher and has no memory of his death or resurrection. Since Marius and his father are also Christians, Maximus finds himself on a course that will bring him head-to-head with Lucius. Those that remember witnessing Maximus fight that day in the Colusseum soon begin spreading the story that he has returned from the dead. That reunites Maximus with his old gladiator friend Juba, now a business owner and father. A nice scene occurs where Juba presses the two small statues representing Maximus' wife and son into the hand of Maximus having dug them up from their buried spot in the ground at the Colosseum, fortifying Maximus' desire to see his son live and not fall as bloodsport for the Colosseum. Maximus tries to rally the Christians to take up arms and defend themselves. He will teach them how to fight. The Christians want none of it as the teachings they follow are ones of non-violence. If they die then they will be with their creator in a better place than this world. Maximus, all his life a believer in the Roman gods, can't comprehend the loyalty of his son and the others to a god that doesn't offer salvation in this world.

Lucius and his men come calling to Marius and his adoptive father at school. Exposing him as a follower of the "fish religion" in front of his classroom of schoolchildren, Lucius delivers a scathing speech against the Christian believers, accusing them and their misplaced faith for causing the Roman gods to visit plague and drought on Rome and her citizens. Reading Cave's screenplay there's never any doubt that the Lucius character is a mirror copy of Joaquin Phoenix's insane emperor Commodus; he's the villain and while the words are different, the dialogue he speaks could've been taken from the original Gladiator script. The reason that Lucius hates Christianity needed to be accented more and made more three dimensional than it comes across at times in the screenplay. Still, it's Lucius that drives the plot forward in Gladiator 2 and it's a known fact that Christians were persecuted in Rome during the latter part of the empire. The same way that Joaquin's performance knocked it out of the park in the original Gladiator, you need someone like that pulling off Lucius in Gladiator 2 or else it will come across as a poorer imitation.

After the death of his adoptive father (another nicely done visual scene) Marius comes to ask Maximus to show him how to fight the Romans. With a number of their soldiers now dead following an attack by Maximus, Lucius convinces emperor Decius that the Christians are close to rising and wants to implement his rounding up of all followers of Christ. As Decius heard Lucius, the two watch a mock naval battle in the now-flooded Colosseum (this is about as close as we get to watching an actual gladiator battle in the script.) Decius agrees. What more, Lucius now knows where he's seen Maximus before. Somehow a dead gladiator is among the Christian numbers and the story is quickly spreading throughout all houses in Rome. With Juba's forge and his steel, Maximus begins to teach the Christians that will fight how to defend their lives in preparation for the coming battle, all while the ghost of Mordecai watches and converses with Maximus. "Will you haunt me all of my days?" observes Maximus, to which Mordecai replies, "Until eternity herself has said her prayers." All throughout the Gladiator 2 script, Cave has done an excellent job of carrying the same style of phrasing and voice in the characters' dialogue. I didn't once feel that there was a line of Maximus' dialogue that I couldn't imagine Russell Crowe saying.

Before the climactic battle there's a confrontation between Lucius and Maximus where the former asks plainly how the great general-turned-gladiator he saw die as a boy could now be standing alive in front of him. With every question Maximus refuses to answer Lucius, instead offering barbed bon mots back to him. Finally when the end battle comes its two hundred of Maximus' trained Christians squaring off against the larger army of Roman soldiers led by Lucius in the woods outside the city. The battle is joined. Men die. Maximus and Lucius face off against each other but in the end it's the hand of Marius that finally brings Lucius down. The Romans retreat. The Christians are aghast at the carnage that they have wrought but the words of Maximus bring focus. The Romans will be back in greater numbers and the fight will go on another day. Maximus reaches down and picks up some soil in his hands, feeling its grit between his fingers.

And with that, the scene shifts in time. Maximus stands on another battlefield, dressed in the armor of a soldier from the Crusades. He fights in battle again.

The scene shifts again to another battlefield, one covered with snow. Maximus' weapons are now automatic ones.

Again, the scene shifts. Another war. Bloodshed across centuries. Maximus doesn't age. After all he's died once already.

Present day. Maximus is in the bathroom of an office, washing his hands. He wears a suit and tie. Glancing up to look in the mirror he sees the figure of Mordecai standing behind him, never leaving him until eternity has said its prayers. Maximus exits the bathroom, walks down a hallway that we see is in the Pentagon. He enters a situation room, sits down at a table surrounded by military officers and politicians waiting for him. The implication is that Maximus is now a very powerful commander for the United States. End.

Now you understand, don't you? Even with its weaker moments Nick Cave's Gladiator 2 reached high and found a truly interesting method of continuing on the tale of Maximus, as well as setting things up for a second sequel that could be set in the here and now. The question is, would audiences have accepted this kind of somewhat radical shift in thinking? Leave aside for the moment that twist ending and look at the start of the movie where Maximus' concept of an afterlife is presented as hard fact. During the making of Gladiator, Ridley Scott said that he wanted to impart a sense of greater realism of what life was like for citizens in Rome. Obviously he succeeded because the worry about making a hokey looking "sword and sandals" movie dissapated when Gladiator came out. I also would claim that without the success of Gladiator there may not have been a 300 and certainly no Troy. But would the heavier emphasis on the supernatural and religious underpinnings ward off the masses coming to check out Gladiator 2 in the theaters? I think that this uncertainty, at least in the minds of DreamWorks executives at the time, is what brought a demise to this ambitious screenplay.

In an interview with UGO from earlier this year, Ridley Scott spoke a little about the reasons why the project got axed. From what Sir Ridley said, it sounds like the problem wasn't with convincing Crowe or Scott to make the picture, it was the studio. "We tried. Russell didn't want to let it go, obviously, because it worked very well," he said. "I mean, when I say ‘worked very well,' I don't refer to success. I mean, as a piece it works very well. Storytelling, he works brilliantly. I think he enjoyed doing it, and I think it was one of those things that he thought, "Well, maybe there's a sequel where we can adjust the fantasy and bring him back from the dead." The site also said that Scott loved the ending of Gladiator 2, a claim that he didn't deny.

A lot of sequel ideas that get developed into screenplays are ones that are the low hanging fruit, the obvious ones. It's the son of the first film's hero; it's another robot version of the guy; it's a clone; it's a reimagining...you know what I'm talking about. Nick Cave's unused Gladiator 2 screenplay brought back the dead hero but from that point on it took a less-traveled road and brought with it some truly interesting concepts. I would have liked to have seen the attempt made but as the chances of that happening are now virtually non-existent the unused script makes for an truly interesting story in what could have been, a movie for you to imagine watching in the theater of your mind. And Nick Cave, you keep writing screenplays as well as making your music.

 

Got an inside tip on a hot screenplay? Send it to scoop [at] coronacomingattractions.com because we're always interested in what screenwriters are cooking up for H-wood.

Jakester
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Posts: 5753
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

I think this would be tricky to do right, but if it is done right, it would be very, very cool.
The big problem is that it does go in such an unexpected direction, and I also would've expected Lucius to have learned a bit more after witnessing the madness of his uncle and from the teachings of his mother.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Strider
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Posts: 1430
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

Great review, Patrick!

I can see exactly why a studio would balk at making this movie. I wish I lived in a world where that wasn't the case. I would love to see how something like this would turn out, especially if Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe were still involved.

www.gamingoutsiders.com
omicron
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Posts: 1238
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

Sort of reminds me of the God of War video game series in the beginning.

We were watching Al-Quaeda, and all this time our security services should have been keeping watch on Jakester's throbbing nutsack!-Dalton's chin dimple
wishihadacause
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Posts: 2
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

I don't think this would work on any other level than being unintentionally funny.
In order to bring Maximus back from the dead, the possibility of that would have had to be set up in the first movie and it wasn't.
Though operatic, Gladiator had a strong grounding in physical reality and whether the pagan afterlife depicted actually exists or is a figment of Max's belief is left to the viewer to decide.
And do we really want a sequel? Bringing back a story that rests with dignity has never produced a watchable movie. Or did you like Alien 4? Terminator 3 and 4?

Jakester
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Posts: 5753
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

Oh, I don't really want a sequel, but it's an interesting, and certainly unexpected, concept for precisely the reasons you outlined.

Frankly, I think in order to survive something as wild as this, the story that occurs after his resurrection needs to be extremely strong and engaging. I'm not sure that the story in its current incarnation is strong enough, but wow....it took some balls to put that out there.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20025
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

Jakester: There's a little more explanation as to why Lucius hates the Christians so much. He explains his motivations when he confronts Maximus for the second time (now knowing that he's the same Maximus that he saw die as a boy.) While it comes near the end of the second act and it beefs his character up, you're still right that Lucius needed more motivation to be so obsessed with eradicating them, especially since he saw his uncle's madness up close and personal. That's why I thought his character could benefit the most from a minor rewrite of the script.

Wish I Had a Cause: Actually the concept of the Roman afterlife was set up in the first movie. Remember those short visions that Maximus had of his dead family and the stone wall with the door separating our world from the world of the dead? During my research for this review I came across a mention on the IMDb's GLADIATOR trivia page stating that a last-minute rewrite by William Nicholson introduced the afterlife elements into the screenplay. That said, GLADIATOR 2 majorly plays up the afterlife concept; while Maximus' visions can be explained as possibly being what his mind wants to believe exists, in GLADIATOR 2 there's no question that not just the Roman afterlife exists but likely so does the Christian one. The supernatural element is heavy and at the forefront at the start of the script, then fades into the background once Maximus returns to the realm of the living. Whether Scott could've pulled it off and made it possible for audiences to swallow, who knows, but I think in the end that uncertainty is what grounded this sequel from happening.

Any more questions about the script, ask and I'll do my best to answer them.

No matter where you go, there you are.
Jakester
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Posts: 5753
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

Agreed on the tweaking of the character, because here's another quibble -- if Lucius discovers that Maxuimus is his father, and again, given what we see of the character in the first Gladiator, I'm having a rough time reconciling that he'd want to kill him.

It just doesn't feel right. Perhaps it plays out on the page better, but given what you've told us, I'm not buying that bit. I mean, he knows that Maximus was beloved of Caesar. He idolized Maximus, not just for his fighting skill, but for his honor and bravery. He knows that Maximus is his father. He saw his Dad kill the bastard Commodus for the betterment of the Roman Empire and die in front of him. He saw his father die. His accepts that his father has been resurrected, and he still wants to kill him?!

In any case, well done on the review, Pat!

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20025
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

In the Cave script Maximus isn't the father of Lucius; I think that idea only existed in the Logan version. Lucius is somewhat of a bastard right from the start but what makes him learn to hate Maximus is that he is sympathetic to the Christians' plight. Conversely, Maximus' son Marius doesn't immediately trust him because Maximus proudly states that he was a loyal and faithful son of Rome in her army, which makes Maximus an idolator in the eyes of Christians like Marius. Once Marius comes around and allows Maximus to prepare the Christians who are willing to fight for their cause, Lucius is left with no option but to convince Emperor Decius that a final solution must be taken to rid the growing Christian menace. Another minor aspect in the story is something Juba says, which is that the Christians are blamed for all of Rome's woes, from the drought plaguing the land to disease and any tactical losses in the Roman empire. They're a scapegoat for those Romans who believe in the power of their gods.

A good chunk of why the GLADIATOR 2 script still works well is Cave's dialogue. It's faithful to what Maximus and the characters in GLADIATOR would say without it descending into mimicry. There's some well-delivered speeches by Lucius, Marius and Mordecai about what they believe in and their reasons why which don't feel artificial or awkward. Maximus doesn't get much in the way of lengthy talk but he does get the opportunity to say some lines which, while short and to the point, are in keeping with the stuff he said in GLADIATOR, like, "In this life or the next I will have my vengeance," or "On my command, unleash hell!" Cave was definitely playing the original GLADIATOR in the background when writing this script.

Glad that you liked the review. I definitely want to do more reviews like this and already have my next lined up.

No matter where you go, there you are.
wishihadacause
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Posts: 2
Posted: 5 years 13 weeks ago

I agree that it has the (huge) virtue of originality on its side and it's fun to imagine.

What I meant to say is just that it's a major leap to go from quick visions of an afterlife to stuff like immortality (on earth), but maybe you really have to read it to buy it.

Surely, if anyone could pull it off it's Sir Ridley, but part of his genius is his strong bullsh*t detector, and this story just seems to leave a hell of a lot of open questions. You have to buy into the notion of the supernatural whereas in the first one it was wisely done sort of "take it or leave it".

But yeah, thank you for the review and keep 'em coming!

dukediaz
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Posts: 1
Posted: 4 years 17 weeks ago

 To go from the 1st one that was an amazing movie to this FAIRYTALE just keep the original story it can go something like this Maximus and Commodus dies Lucila get sick if you want you can kill her off Commodus was a bastard child and his followers in the senate how or try to kill Lucius and his mother so the senate take power until Commodus bastard son is ready to take his place as Caesar of Rome so Lucila send him of to live with Juba were he see Maximus spirit and helps him get through the obstacle that he will have to face then 15year later him and Juba some how end up a gladiators. some thing like that i still have more to the story but tired of writing it not like I'm a producer,director or writer it just suggestion if you like what i wrought or don't plz leave your comment thank you