Surprisingly grim, Revenge of the Gladiators starts off like any number of rather lunkheaded sword and sandal flicks with its gladiator heroes, deranged emperor, silly-looking barbarians, convoluted schemes to betray whomever happened to have his back turned at a given moment, and Mickey Hargitay, but then gets progressively darker until our heroes are reduced to joining a group of religious refugees fleeing the disintegrating Roman Empire.
Truly a sobering experience, though Hargitay couldn’t resist tapping into that natural goofiness that was so much in evidence in Bloody Pit of Horror by telling the barbarians while they were torturing him that their women smelled like sheep!
Valentinian III is the emperor whose incompetence in political machinations and ruling Rome is only exceeded by his ability to make strange faces while indulging in watching imported Greek dancers performing an embarrassingly fey number for his court.
While his super stud general, who’s been out in the field beating back the Vandals, is pleading with him to provide his men food and support, Valentinian is only concerned with the two gladiators roped up to each other and brawling for his pleasure! Add in the fact that Valentinian periodically advises one of his aids how he wishes to be written about in history and his not being brutally murdered onscreen comes as a major disappointment!
But that would be the only disappointment for Revenge of the Gladiators! Beginning with all-out barbarian vs. Roman action and swiftly shifting back to Rome for the introduction of the gladiators themselves, the film delivers all the action and pathos one would expect from a film where Hargitay is tied up to a cross while wearing only a diaper and forced to watch his girlfriend marry an ugly barbarian with a hideous mullet! And then he was going to be shot full of arrows as soon as the marriage was complete! And you thought Catholic weddings were torturous!
The gladiators the film purports to follow (in truth, the movie ends up being about Hargitay more than the gladiators) are the six best gladiators in all of Rome! They’re so good, they even have their own superhero team nickname, The Six Invincibles, and they come into the arena as a group to fight bunches of other gladiators. But these guys aren’t just bloodthirsty thugs who enjoy all-male slap fights. They also have hardcore political views!
Perhaps teaching me more than I ever wanted to know about the political problems facing Rome a couple of thousand years ago, the film shows us that the common soldiers (of which the Six Invincibles used to be) had no use for the Praetorian Guard, who were viewed as the emperor’s corrupt henchmen. The ex-soldiers meanwhile complained that once out of the service they were given a little bit of land and then taxed into oblivion!
Normally, this is the sort of Wall Street Journal talk I would loath in my sweaty hunk movies, but it lead to a big bar fight so it was obviously vital to the story that we have that background.
Hargitay plays Fabius, the son of the general doing all the barbarian ass kicking. Fabius has been presumed dead, but manages to make his way back to Rome and hooks up with his old buddies, the Six Invincibles.
The Six Invincibles, when not doing their gladiator bit or getting in fights, do what they can for the common man by working with some sort of resistance group. To this end they help a couple of guys escape being executed and Fabius assists causing him a great deal of trouble with his general father.
While visiting the emperor to apologize and swear his allegiance, he sees the emperor’s daughter and they fall in love. The Vandal leader though sees an opportunity to grab the Roman throne by having his homely son marry the emperor’s daughter and this leads to Fabius’ capture and provides the impetus for a final assault on the barbarians by the Six Invincibles and leads to a bittersweet victory.
An air of inevitable defeat permeates most of the second half of the film, from when Fabius’s father lies on his deathbed and uses his final words to say that “tomorrow Rome will disappear in a sea of fire” to Fabius announcing that they will defend the fort against the barbarians despite having no chance of winning to the news that Rome is destroyed. It is all very effective and sort of sneaks of up on you since you expect that Hargitay and his gladiator pals will somehow make everything right.
A welcome change from the usual over-the-top pumped up antics of these types of films, it even manages to throw in some religion here and there! The end of an empire has never been this entertaining!
© 2016 MonsterHunter