6 things we learned from the ‘Gladiator II’ trailer – from Paul Mescal’s fury to charging rhinos

Is Russell Crowe’s Maximus back for the Ridley Scott sequel? Well, kinda…

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Gladiator II
Aidan Monaghan/Paramount PicturesLucius and Marcus Acacius (Pedro Pascal) fight to the death

Legacy sequels are all the rage – from Ghostbusters to Twister to Top Gun, once-old blockbusters are getting dusted down and spruced up for 2020s audiences. None of them are half as exciting as Ridley Scott’s Gladiator II, though, a film which lands 24 years after its predecessor and picks up a similar time period later – give or take – to follow the fate of Gladiator’s boyish Lucius. Now a brawny man played by Paul Mescal, he’ll be following Russell Crowe’s Maximus into the arena two decades after his boyhood hero’s death at the hands of Commodus. 

Yes, the ‘busy little bee’ is now more of a fackin’ massive hornet – and he’s got time on his hands to kill everyone who has crossed him. Which, judging by the first trailer, is the entire Roman Empire. Here’s what to look out for in the trailer

Gladiator II
Photograph: Aidan Monaghan/ Paramount PicturesPaul Mescal as Lucius

1. Paul Mescal makes a supercharged hero

He broke our hearts with Normal People and Aftersun and broke our social feeds with literally everything he did at Glastonbury, so it’s easy to forget that Paul Mescal is yet to fully prove his mettle in the Hollywood arena. Judging by the trailer, that is about to change in a big, gym-toned way. He’s both the soul and the raging id of a Ridley Scott sequel that finds his grown-up Lucius living in a kind of benevolent(ish) exile in Numidia in northwest Africa (an area that covers modern-day Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco). Is he happy? Lord no. ‘Rage is your gift,’ he hears. It’s an understatement. 

Gladiator II
Photograph: Paramount PicturesLucius prepares for combat

2. It’s all about male rage

‘I never knew a mother or father,’ Lucius tells Denzel Washington’s gladiator-owning arms dealer and all-round schemer Macrinus, not entirely truthfully (mum Lucilla, played by Connie Nielsen, is back for the sequel). His brooding exile is shattered when the Roman fleet descends on Numidia and unleashes hell, a sequence that plays out in the trailer. Captured and dragged back to Rome, Lucius is forced to confront that long-buried past in the Colosseum. ‘It’s very [an] “angry young man” drama,’ Mescal tells Vanity Fair. ‘He’s thrust back into that world and has direct proximity to all of the things that he thinks he hates.’ 

Gladiator II
Photo Credit: Cuba Scott/ Paramount Pictures.Denzel Washington as Macrinus

3. Denzel Washington might steal the show

Ridley Scott describes Washington’s Macrinus as a wealthy arms dealer with ‘a stable of gladiators’ – one of whom, Lucius, may just be his key to even greater power. Unlike Oliver Reed’s gladiator trainer Proximo in the first movie, the Training Day star has his sights set on an entirely new political order. ‘Rome must fall,’ he says in the trailer, ‘I need only give it a push.’ Our guess would be that Macrinus and Lucius’s objectives align in the film – until they don’t.

Photograph: Scott Free ProductionsRussell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius in ‘Gladiator’

4. Russell Crowe’s Maximus is still playing a crucial role

Gladiator’s gnarly hero, Russell Crowe’s Maximus, may be enjoying eternal leave in Elysium with the family, but his long shadow still hangs over the sequel. The trailer opens with a flashback to his face-off with Joaquin Phoenix’s villainous Emperor Commodus in the 2000 movie – this time seen through the eye of the young Lucius. ‘I’ll never forget that a slave could take revenge against a master,’ recalls the older Lucius, now played by Paul Mescal. Clearly the young, gladiator-loving princeling has learnt from Maximus’s insurgent spirit and will be channelling it in the sequel. Unlike Maximus, Lucius’ motivation seems to be nothing less than the destruction of the imperial order. Are we about to hail a new Spartacus?

Gladiator II
Photograph: Aidan Monaghan/ Paramount PicturesJoseph Quinn as Emperor Geta in ‘Gladiator II’

5. Rome is now in the hands of deranged populists

Replacing Phoenix’s Commodus as the antagonist are not one but two Emperors, both as twisted and sadistic as each other. Thelma’s Fred Hechinger is Caracalla and Stranger Things star Joseph Quinn is his co-emperor, Geta. This malevolent duo – real-life brothers who ruled together from 209–211 AD – are no longer throwing bread to the crowds. We see them ordering Pedro Pascal’s General Marcus Acacius, a protégé of Maximus’s, to ramp up Rome’s war efforts. ‘Rome has so many subjects. She must feed them,’ protests Acacius, to which Geta replies: ‘They can eat war.’ Has the nervy crowd pleasing of Commodus given way to a more sociopathic, Third Reich-y brand of populism?

Gladiator II
Photograph: Aidan Monaghan/ Paramount PicturesPedro Pascal as General Marcus Acacius

6. The battle sequences will be epic

Gladiator II will have to pull out the stops to top Gladiator’s spectacular opening engagement – a 3-0 away win for the Romans over a disorganised German outfit – but on this evidence, Sir Ridley has pulled off another coup de cinema, with sea battles, rhino battles in the arena and battles on land. ‘The film begins with the raiding party of the Roman fleet, which comes in from the sea and decimates Numidia,’ Scott tells Vanity Fair. ‘It’s pretty gnarly.’ Most exciting of all is the footage of the naumachia, sea battles that took place inside the Colosseum itself and which will pitch Lucius into struggle for survival amid turbulent waters, charging ships and flying arrows. 

Where can you watch the trailer?

The first trailer is now online and you can watch it below.

Gladiator II is in Australian cinemas Nov 14, UK cinemas Nov 15, and US theaters Nov 22.

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