Cool battle scenes, hand-to-hand combat, togas - we've waited a long time for a sword and sandals epic. But if they all have the thrills and exude the panache of "Gladiator", the next can't come quickly enough. Crowe is Maximus, a war hero and loyal subject of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Already in his twilight years, Aurelius tells his son - the young, ambitious and frankly bonkers Commodus (Phoenix), that he will never succeed the throne.
So Commodus does what any grateful son does: he murders his Dad and then begins to eliminate his competitors, namely Maximus and his family. But Maximus escapes execution and flees back home where he is picked up by gladiator trainer Proximo (Reed) to battle in the arena. Not surprisingly, Maximus proves rather good at the sparring lark and soon he has made his way to Rome in preparation for a showdown with Commodus.
Huge in scope and endlessly exciting, "Gladiator" is the new word in blockbuster. All the players are excellent, with a central performance by Crowe that reaches new levels of magnetism.
If there is a downside, it is that the quieter and perfectly acceptable plot stuff suffers simply because you can't wait for the next action sequence. But hey, who cares when you've got Russell Crowe fighting tigers? It's official: the Roman Empire is hip again.
View the "Gladiator" trailer at the offical Gladiator site.