Why yes, I am entertained… But I have questions.
(book assigned by Admiral Fartmore)
Editor’s note: Yeah, it isn’t really a book, and yeah, the project was ultimately scrapped. But this (assumed) DMT-inspired nightmare was too good to pass up.
When Maximus **SPOILER** died **END SPOILER** at the end of Gladiator, it was an incredibly sad moment in film history (not Russell Crowe’s greatest on screen death, but close). Yet it had a silver lining — he was now able to see his wife and son in the afterlife. At least that’s what I had taken from the ending. His hand brushing upon golden wheat fields with his family waving to him in the distance. Nick Cave on the other hand had some different views.
After the success of Gladiator, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe wanted to capitalize on that cash cow. There was, however, the problem of what to do about the death of the main character. It’s been rumoured that they had pitches from many writers, but they were all too simplistic and sensical– a prequel about his days in the Roman army, say. Instead, they reached out to Cave to take the challenge, and he addressed the issue of a dead Maximus head on by having him wake up in the afterlife.
The main problem with this is that the first film had absolutely no supernatural elements to it. To introduce an afterlife where our protagonist meets gods and spirits who traverse celestial planes in a sequel is just as absurd as having Charles Foster Kane ripping around Xanadu on rosebud with Casper the friendly ghost pulling hijinks on Thompson. As much as I love hijinks, it would put an odd twist on the first film because you’d re-watch it knowing supernatural elements are at play and just can’t see them.
When Maximus wakes up in a purgatory, two thieves steal his armour. A guy named Mordecai comes to his rescue, killing one of the thieves. Maximus whines about where he is and where his family is, but Mordecai says the place has no name ‘because it doesn’t need one’ and he doesn’t know where his family is. Carrying on, Mordecai takes him to a refugee-like village where everyone is miserable and hoping to get on a boat to a place called Elysium. He goes to a rundown palace at the top of a mountain where the Roman gods have all wasted away into decrepit old men because people have begun believing in this new fancy single true God. Jupiter and his posse blame one of their own, Hephaestos, as he led a growing band of idolaters out into the desert and is betraying his own. They tell Maximus that if he kills Hephaestos they will reunite him with his family.
Turns out his family isn’t even there. His wife gave up her chance at Elysium to send their son back to earth. Hephaestos is pretty much dead when Maximus finds him but he manages to send Maximus back to earth because, sure, he’s a nice guy and a dead father should be with his undead son– like Michael Keaton’s Jack Frost VII. When Maximus gets back, he’s put into and revives the body of a slain Christian who’s just been executed. Now that it’s Maximus in control, he kicks some ass by pulling a sword out of himself, stealing a horse, and high tailing it outta there. Maximus meets some other Christians plotting some stuff that Maximus doesn’t care about and then rides back to Rome and finds his son who’s a man now and part of this growing Christian cult. Oh and Mordecai keeps appearing in and out like an old ghoulish Cheshire cat of the underworld to tell Maximus stuff but only Maximus can see him.
Maximus never ends up telling his son who he is but ends up fighting with the Christians because one of the generals (Lucius, Commodus’ nephew from the first film) is a crazy dude who is massacring people left and right. Rumours begin that Maximus is the fallen general who became a slave and killed the emperor because somehow people recognize him, so their band gets even more traction and followers. They start an encampment in the woods to train the pacifist Christians how to fight and in a final battle fend off the Roman attack.
Maximus then fights through a bunch of major battles throughout history and ends up in the pentagon with Mordecai still tagging along. That’s the gist of it, with a few other things like: Juba helping out, an incredibly awesome naumachia scene, and a new emperor who’s pretty much as shitty as Commodus was, making Maximus’ first attempt at restoring the republic a waste.
All in all this was a first draft and with some changes I’d probably love to see it. But there are a few questions I have, mostly regarding the supernatural:
- When Mordecai killed the thief, what happened to him? What happens when a dead man in purgatory dies? Is he immediately sent to Tartarus? That seems unfair.
- How do the people in purgatory get chosen to go to Elysium? Where are Aeacus, Rhadamanthus and King Minos? Is their system that backed up to allow hundreds of thousands still awaiting judgement?
- Or is this the Asphodel Meadows where all the average people go to be in the afterlife? If that’s the case then Maximus surely shouldn’t be there.
- Why didn’t people just make their own boats to get to Elysium? They seem to have an eternity. And since when did spirits even care about themselves in Roman culture anyway? Didn’t they just flit about with no purpose in a huge phantasmal swarm?
- Why did the gods accept his wife’s soul to let their son go back to earth? They already had her soul– and his. Why is it better to have her soul go to Tartarus and him to earth than both of them to Elysium or even chill where they were?
- Why aren’t the gods living on Olympus? Were they all just chilling with Pluto when shit got bad and couldn’t leave?
- Why are the gods losing their power if people don’t believe in them? Are they fairies in Peter Pan’s universe? Perhaps if we clap enough we can bring back the Roman gods.
- How did the hundreds of thousands of people in purgatory not hear about the weakened gods and kill them? If Maximus can kill Hephaestos, surely thousands can kill Jupiter and his sickly coterie.
- What happened to the guy whose body Maximus took over when he was sent back to earth? Did his soul go to purgatory? Did he look like Maximus already or did his face change?
- Did his son also take over a body or did he have to crawl out of his own grave?
- Why can only Maximus see Mordecai? If it’s because he’s undead then Maximus’ son would also be able to see him.
- What happened to the Roman gods? Did they eventually die when the Christians won the battle? Is it the Christian god keeping Maximus immortal now?
- How did a band of pacifist Christians who trained for a few weeks fight off one of the most disciplined armies in human history?
- The Christians are pacifists slaughtered because they believe they’ll go to heaven and be with their god if they don’t kill. But this has already been established as not true. Is the afterlife simply whatever you believe it to be?
- If Maximus is an immortal war hero wouldn’t he have stopped the countless atrocities in history? Did he just get selfish and wanted some ‘me time’ during Mao, Hitler, Stalin, the Congo Free State, etc.?
- Why wouldn’t the Roman gods just send Lucius back to earth as an immortal to kill all the Christians so they themselves would get believers again and not wither away?
- Why wasn’t there a single female character? Juba’s wife who has one line saying he should come to bed soon is the only female in the script.
I tried to contact David Franzoni, the screenwriter of the first film, to get his take on Nick Cave’s sequel but he did not respond or I had the wrong contact info (I would guess the latter). I would like to think that he would have kept most of the story as is but would have added one scene after the pentagon: Maximus gets loaded into a computer, loses his mind and becomes Sid 6.7, thus linking the two greatest Russell Crowe films together. Then they can finally make a sequel to Virtuosity. Maximusosity… Gladiosity… Virtuadiator… You get the idea. It’d be badass.