Gladiator II Could Break the Legacy Sequel Curse

What we do in 2000 echoes through the box office.

Paul Mescal as Lucius in Gladiator II
Paramount Pictures

Gladiator was one of the best historical epics ever, but a large part of its appeal came from its no-frills, straightforward revenge story. In an age where revenge pics were a dime a dozen, Ridley Scott’s 2000 masterpiece made a familiar premise feel visceral and real again. It helped that Scott was also taking a gutsier approach to the sword-and-sandals films that once dominated the multiplex. In many ways, Gladiator represented the genre’s peak, and it still hasn’t really been topped. But leave it to Scott, 24 years later, to take a swing at a follow-up.

“Legacyquels” have become a staple of modern Hollywood, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to build on the world of Gladiator. Hopefully, with Scott at the helm, Gladiator II won’t be just another empty cash grab. There are loose connections to the original film starring Russell Crowe, along with a few returning cast members, and it also echos Gladiator’s tale of vengeance and redemption. But with fresh blood in the form of Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington, and Joseph Quinn, Gladiator II could provide a refreshingly modern take on the classic genre.

Appropriately set a few decades after Gladiator, Gladiator II tells the story of Lucius (Mescal), a warrior who shapes himself into an instrument of revenge. He’s the son of the Roman noblewoman Lucilla (Connie Nielsen, reprising her original role), and he might also be the son of Crowe’s Maximus. No one knows for sure, especially since he grew up miles away from the Roman empire and built a life for himself in relative peace. But in an echo of the original Gladiator, that’s quickly thwarted by an attack from Roman forces.

Lucius becomes a prisoner, then a gladiator determined to tear down the system that destroyed his life. With the help of a charming power broker (Washington), Lucius will challenge the Roman general (Pascal) who led the invasion of his hometown. Before we get that epic showdown, however, Lucius has to survive wild rhinos, a simulated sea battle in the Colosseum, and a potential reunion with his estranged mom. Heads will roll, swords will swing, and fate will be tested. Gladiator II doesn’t seem to be reinventing the wheel, but maybe a return to form is just what audiences need right now.

Gladiator II opens in theaters on November 22.

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