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Our review of Spartacus: Vengeance, published September 11th, 2012, is also available.
Some legends are written in blood.
What a rollercoaster for the brains (and brawn) behind Spartacus. Their first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand was a modest success and earned a devoted cult following. Sadly, breakout star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer, and tragically succumbed to the disease. Now the show is back, featuring a new lead, a clear point of termination (Season Three will be its last), and apparently an expanded "plastic schlong" budget.
Facts of the Case
Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his band of former slaves have just loosed the shackles of their owners in extraordinarily bloody fashion and gone underground. Their burgeoning rebellion is teetering, as in-fighting and side priorities besiege the group. While Spartacus tries to instill his freedom-loving cause into the hearts of the rabble, Roman Praetorian Glaber (Craig Parker, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), the man responsible for ruining Spartacus' life, attempts to quell the uprising using any means possible. That may resort to throwing his lot in with a potentially bonkers Lucretia (Lucy Lawless, Battlestar Galactica), one of the few survivors from last season's massacre.
Mythology intersects when Gannicus (Dustin Clare, McLeod's Daughters), the hero of the prequel miniseries Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, enters the fray, and struggles to determine where he and his lethal blades fall into all of this history.
The Romans approach, the catapults are at the ready, and the breasts have been exposed: What surprises does Vengeance have in store?
As is the case with this over-the-top show, the answer is "big ones." The writers are keen to blow up any and all expectations of the audience and typically do so by murdering beloved characters. There are a total of two guys who are safe, and one of them shares the same name with the show's title. Creator Steven S. DeKnight (Smallville) has truly cultivated a world where anything can happen.
So that's the good news. If you're hoping to be as surprised and shocked as we were with the first season, Spartacus: Vengeance brings the thunder. In fact, the "beloved character body count" is higher this time around, as entire arcs are sewn up by the finale, prepping the show for its denouement, which is looking to be fairly epic.
Not that the series is claustrophobic. This season, our heroes are doing battle in the wilderness, on the mountainside, in the streets of Capua, and on the sands of the arena; like any good sequel, it's all bigger and better. When the balls-out "Wrath of the Gods" season finale drops, I can forgive you if you're thinking you might be watching a Ridley Scott movie. It's that big and bad-ass.
And that's pretty much what draws me into this crazy universe—the bad-assness of it all. Spartacus, Gannicus, Crixis…all unstoppable killing machines. The women get into the slaughter as well, showing off some sweet sniping and stealth kills. The show butters its bread with the violence and bloodshed, and does not disappoint. The kills are gnarlier (one poor schmuck has his face cut off!), the action is better choreographed and more varied, and the stakes are higher, lending increased weight to the encounters.
Everything involving Spartacus (handled nicely by McIntryre in a tough role), Crixis, and the rest of the slaves is terrific. The power plays in Capua with the Romans are less engaging, primarily because one of my irritations with the series is so in-your-face during these dialogue-heavy moments: the absence of indefinite articles. With all of the advancements Rome made in technology, linguistics, and philosophy, you'd think someone would have at least stumbled on the word "the."
No matter. Spartacus: Vengeance is boisterous entertainment, an id-driven festival of cleavage and cleaving that manages to power through its excess and deliver a good story. Can't wait to see what these guys have cooking for the send-off.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray set is sublime. Delivered in a slick "book" package, the three discs bring all ten episodes, transferred with style in a beautiful 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen presentation. The video fidelity is about as good as it gets, transmitting the chaos and ecstasy in the hyper-stylized manner that the content was made with. For audio, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track pounds, manufacturing some truly memorable sequences of havoc. Extras: Commentary for each episode, a handful of brief behind-the-scenes featurettes, a Liam McIntryre on-set segment, bloopers, a lame "history of Spartacus" narrative, a look at Lucy Lawless's experience, and a nothing of a teaser for the third season, Spartacus: War of the Damned.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Spartacus is about as hard-R as you're going to find in mainstream entertainment. The violence is extreme (yet stylized) and the sex and nudity content is through the roof. My main complaint with the show still remains: the producers appear to be a slave to their own excess, to the point where the more outrageous shenanigans distract from the genuinely solid story that's being told.
As restrained ever, Spartacus: Vengeance manages to appeal to every base desire a human being holds—but does so by telling a pretty cool story, in a top-shelf Blu-ray release.
Not Guilty, Roman scum.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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