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Case Number 26246

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Spartacus: War of the Damned

Anchor Bay // 2013 // 553 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 11th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson is a free man and has the sweaty pectorals to prove it.

The Charge

Et tu, Glute?

Opening Statement

After delivering a legitimate hit to Starz, the network's maiden voyage into serialized television comes to a close, with all the typical restraint you've come to expect.

Facts of the Case

Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) has transformed himself from leader of a band of scraggly former slaves to an actual general, in command of thousands and thousands of warriors. Their goal: to crush the hated Romans underfoot and maybe, just maybe, secure freedom for all slaves of the empire.

Unfortunately, Spartacus and his bro-generals Gannicus (Dustin Clare), Crixus (Manu Bennett, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel) will have to go through their fiercest foes yet: Senator and battlefield tactician Crassus (Simon Merrells) and his feisty protégé, one Julius fricking Caesar (Todd Lasance).

The Evidence

I have been a solid fan of this show, ever since it landed bloody and screaming on the airwaves on 2010. Yes it was and remains ridiculously over-the-top in respects to blood and sleaze and, in fact, reliably attempted to outdo itself in those categories year after year; but, leaping lizards, was it entertaining. Underneath those gooey layers of sinew and bodily fluids lies a legit story, packed with surprises and clever plot turns (even though the show stays sort of kind of faithful to the historical record).

Now it's time to wrap it all up, with the last stand of Spartacus and his legion of spirited ex-slaves primed to coat the screen in CGI blood. And—not a moment too soon. Because, friends, Romans, countrymen, I am here to tell you that Spartacus may have gone on one season too long.

That's not because there wasn't enough story to tell. Spartacus and Crixus's clash with Crassus is rich enough to tell; it's just that the Spartacus formula may have overstayed its welcome. Add to that some uncharacteristically knuckle-headed plot and character decisions and the hard truth is War of the Damned is an unfortunate misfire.

Here's why:

• Incessant Monologuing
So, Spartacus is a big fan of freedom, as well as he should be. But it felt like every episode he went on a long-winded rant extolling the virtues of being able to make your own choices as it pertained to sexual intercourse and bathing, while also taking a dump on the Romanic world. I'm all for personal liberty and the de-emphasis of a state-run bureaucracy, but after a while, the guy morphed into Ron Paul in a banana sling.

• Julius Caesar
Cool concept. Crap follow-through. In advance of the season, creator Steven DeKnight talked of how he wanted to give us villains worth rooting for, and if anyone could have blurred the lines of allegiance, it could have been this guy. But this Julius Caesar was essentially a young, hornier version of Thor. Worse, the writers turned him into a slouch and a coward. Todd Lasance has some chops, but he's saddled with portraying an unlikable dink. Huge missed opportunity.

• Crassus, too
Crassus started out promising and the storyline with his son had some juice. Things got real weird later on and the man of honor that Crassus had been set up to be devolved into a dude oblivious to the deranged nature of his pipsqueak offspring and focused on the boobs of his slave mistress.

• All the Romans, Really
Talk about useless cannon fodder. This series is flush with Roman-killing action, but the volume in which the Republic's crack forces succumb to the axe thrusts of a horde of topless barbarians is disconcerting. These were the guys that conquered most of the civilized world, right? I quickly became desensitized to the sight of cleaved Romans. That, unfortunately, diminished the impact of the action scenes considerably.

• The Rebels Aren't All That Likable Either
The writers did succeed in making it a grind to keep rooting for the former slaves, so I'll give them that. There's a lot of belly-aching and Crixus always has a bug up his rear. Agron is caught in a lame love triangle. And Gannicus, while the coolest of the bunch, is given a predictable storyline about discovering his leadership ability.

In the end, the hiccups in narrative could not be bailed out by the bloodshed and boinking, both of which have significantly lost their shock value. Not that the writer's room didn't try; you'll get bludgeoned faces, crucifixions, schlong exposure, decapitations, drawing-and-quartering and borderline explicit homo/hetero sex. To which I say: yawn.

The DVD set pales in comparison to its HD brother. The CGI-heavy effects are undercut by the standard-def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, sapping a good amount of the flair from the production. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is nice and loud though. Extras: featurettes on the gladiator training, the cast farewell, the visual effects and costuming, creator DeKnight and a general promo for the series.

Closing Statement

I hate that this sounds so negative, but the hook of Spartacus has always been that it moved beyond simple guilty pleasure thanks to some ace storytelling. Spartacus: War of the Damned has, alas, backslid.

The Verdict

Guilty of falling short of the standard set by previous seasons.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 80
Story: 70
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 553 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Action
• Adventure
• Drama
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes


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