Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is the 6-part prequel TV series to last year’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It’s a show that ran on the Starz network, so it’s maybe a bit under the radar, but they’re all on Netflix and well worth seeking out. I’m going to discuss both series in this review, although Gods of the Arena is the one that just ended.
After the amazing HBO series Rome, another Roman cable series seemed an odd choice. But where Rome was a serious, historically accurate (mostly), critically-acclaimed series, Spartacus just wants to be fun. It’s got more violence, sex, and foul language than most R-rated films. And yes, it’s mostly gratuitous. But not unreasonable. After all, the main characters are gladiators who fight and kill for a living.
In the original series, Blood & Sand, Spartacus is played by Andy Whitfield. The series starts slow and a bit corny, actually, but the style is a deliberate one–similar to the movie 300–and it grows on you. The series steadily improves all season. The characters are very good and there are enough of them to allow for numerous side plots. The finale is honestly one of the most exciting hours of television I’ve ever seen.
The latest series, Gods of the Arena, happened sort of by accident. Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with a form of cancer and was unable to return to play Spartacus. During the delay, they shot Gods of the Arena as a prequel, with the main characters being Batiatus and Lucretia, owners of the gladiator training house that buys Spartacus. They are played by John Hannah (best known from the Mummy movies) and Lucy Lawless. They both do really good work as people who are not really “good” people, but they’re much more likable than the people they do business with.
This second series starts good but bogs down a little in the middle with a lengthy subplot about Batiatus’ father coming back to take control of the gladiators’ training. It goes on a bit too long, but once again, they close strong with a great finale.
What’s really smart about the finale is that avoids the fundamental problem of most prequels. They end up where the first season starts (almost), so you know what’s going to happen, but they do something very smart here. Besides seeing how many of the characters from the first series became who they are, they set up the next season as well. As in, the season currently in production with a re-cast Spartacus. There is now unfinished business that couldn’t be addressed during season 1, but is surely going to come up in season 3.
It’s not a series for the faint of stomach. As I said, the language, violence, and nudity are pushed to the maximum. And the dialogue style takes some getting used to (they basically leave out all their prepositions). It has no interest in being realistic or historically accurate, like Rome was, but its goal is always to entertain the audience, which it does thoroughly.