First, for those that may not have seen Spartacus on Starz and are looking to get into the series via DVD based on its popularity, Spartacus: Vengeance is season 2 of the show but technically the third season. After the excellent 2010 5-star season premier under the title Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Andy Whitfield who played the lead role of Spartacus tragically died of cancer. Whitfield embodied Spartacus; he was a believable, imposing, rough, tough character that made viewers feel like they were watching the real guy from circa 70 BC. His untimely illness left the studio scrambling to decide how to or if the series would continue. Ultimately the studio decided to produce a prequel that ideally would give Whitfield time to recover after treatment, but sadly Whitfield relapsed and passed shortly after production of the prequel.
The prequel was called Gods of the Arena and it was excellent. But there was something missing from Gods that made Blood & Sand the 5-Star series that it was: Andy Whitfield and his Spartacus character. So for season 2 we get Spartacus back, but was Whitfield really replaceable? Starz took a chance and went for the Whitfield look-alike with Liam McIntyre versus finding another imposing force that could also act. Yes, McIntyre does look quite a bit like Whitfield, but there is something just a little less imposing, less rough and less tough about the guy; he's a kinder, warmer Spartacus that smiled too much (and a bit smaller; he had to look up to most of his warrior co-stars). And that took away some of the believability from season 2 for me....Especially when Spartacus would break into one of his many inspirational and emotional speeches to his group of freedom fighters. It was the non-battle scenes that I was often struck by the notion that 'the real' Spartacus is gone.
So was season 2 good? Was it maybe even great? It had some great moments for sure, but had some very big shoes to fill after season 1's finale. Some of the season 2 supporting characters were certainly not as strong as season 1's. The unexpected return of Lucy Lawless definitely helped, but as good as it made the final episode of season 1, I think that the studio was ultimately kicking itself for killing off John Hannah who carried all of Gods of the Arena and co-starred more than he supported many of the Blood and Sand season episodes. (Don't worry: If you're new to the series and you watch the shows in time chronologically with Gods of the Arena first, that tidbit of info about killing off John Hannah is spoiled in the first few moments of episode 1 of Gods even though Hannah stars throughout; so thank the studio for that, not me.)
Similar to its series predecessors, Spartacus Vengeance leaves nothing for the imagination during its time period: love, battle, adultery, orgy, torture, rape, murder...it's all there in all its glory...and I mean ALL its glory. The events of Spartacus Vengeance take place after Spartacus' gang of gladiators escape slavery and form a large rebellion to strike down Roman slavery altogether.
I was still very entertained by Spartacus: Vengeance. I'm a fan, but Andy in my opinion is sorely missed. I think I'll keep watching, and according to a November 7, 2011, Entertainment Weekly article, a third season has been picked up.
Blood and Sand: 5 stars
Gods of the Arena: 4 stars
Vengeance: 3½ stars
on May 9, 2012
Fans of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the prequel Gods of the Arena: Draw near, that I may break words with you.
Know this in advance: there are parts of this second season (or third, depending on how you're counting) of the Spartacus saga that _you will not like_. But the gods do not favor such thoughts! WE are for Spartacus: Vengeance, preferably on Blu-ray, which has had noticeably better picture and sound quality than the Starz broadcasts. Bend ear, and I shall give good reasons to make purchase:
- The story is on a par with, possibly even better than, Blood and Sand. It's different - how could it be otherwise? - but more complex and on a much grander scale. The same goes for the setting. Spartacus has always featured impressive camera work and CGI, and this time around it is, at times, literally jaw-dropping and downright beautiful. Much of S:V looks and feels more like a movie than a TV series.
- The cast outdoes itself yet again. Liam McIntyre takes a couple of episodes to get comfortable with the daunting job of filling Andy Whitfield's sandals, but by mid-season he's rocking Spartacus every bit as hard as Whitfield did. Cynthia Addai-Robinson takes awhile to get into her role as Naevia (replacing Leslie-Ann Brandt,) but makes up for it and then some in the final episode. All the returnees own their characters in splendid fashion, even when those characters have dramatically changed (see below.) It's very hard to pick a standout this time, but I'm going with Nick Tarabay. Yeah, Asher, who this time around is pushing his intelligence (he's smarter than he appears) and cunning (he's even more of a snake) to their limits in an attempt to gain real wealth and power. Tarabay takes what was a relatively minor character in the other series and brings him to the forefront as a downright fascinating, and in a way even tragic, figure. Where was he hiding this guy in S:B&S?
- Lucy Lawless, who takes her character Lucretia on a horrific roller-coaster ride from wife and house-mistress (with a touch of the Borgia thrown in,) to mad prophetess, to a vengeful slave's plaything, to confidante-and-perhaps-assassin of a powerful family. You'll be genuinely wondering whether she's crazy-like-a-fox, or just plain crazy, right up to the moment of the Stephen King-worthy climax in the final episode.
- "Libertus". Spartacus and his generals return to the arena in Capua one final time, and the result is the best episode of any of the three series up until this point. This and the season finale are by themselves worth the price of the entire set.
- "Wrath of the Gods". I didn't think it was possible to top the finale of Blood and Sand. They did it.
- The bonus features are all worth watching, especially the "making of" episode 5 featurette. For someone who still pictures the lights-camera-action Hollywood stereotype behind the scenes, watching 21st-century state-of-the-art "filming" with its complex battle choreography, robotic digital cameras and virtual sets is endlessly fascinating.
To be sure, there are a few problems with S:V:
- First and foremost: only ten episodes. The whole blasted thing was over and done with inside of three months. And this is weird, because there is easily 13 episodes worth of story here. As others have noted, this means that a number of intriguing plot threads (e.g. Lucretia's rescue from the ludus massacre, and the Seppia / Seppius relationship) were just barely touched upon. I assume they blew the budget on episodes 5 and 10, but still, ten episodes simply were not enough to tell this story as it should be told.
- As with S:GotA, the story starts out slow, taking a couple of episodes to ramp up. Clearly the producers' fault for spoiling us with S:B&S, which was solid from end to end. ;)
- It's clear at this point that the producers are making a conscious effort to outdo themselves sex-and-violence-wise with each new season, and in S:V it's actually become a detriment to the show. We now have the camera lingering on spilled intestines and increasingly-bizarre mutilations for no other reason than "Hey, look what our effects guys came up with THIS time!" We also have numerous scenes set in a brothel that clearly exist only to (ahem) insert sex that they couldn't work into the storyline. (This season could have been subtitled "Meanwhile, back at the whorehouse...") S:B&S proved that they can use the sex and gore intelligently to pump up an already good story. So why go all gratuitous on us now?
- Ten. Episodes. At a higher price than most other series' 22-episode seasons. (If history is any guide, however, the price will come down soon after release.)
Sum of topic: Buy it, but wait until the price comes down somewhat. Five stars, but just barely this time - the length, the price and what is now the almost overbearing sex and gore almost cost it that 5th.
on February 26, 2012
I've not bought the blu-ray of season 2 yet but I will. I have the prequel and season 1. I'm a big fan and was devastated when I heard Andy Whitfield was ill and then died. He was perfect for this role. He was awesome. The new guy is doing ok. If he was the original Spartacus I'm thinking we'd all be saying he's awesome but Andy set such a high bar I don't think anybody could have matched or bettered him. Anyway. Season 2 in my opinion is a little different to season 1 for me. I liked seeing the gladiators being trained, fighting in the area and seeing the twisted plots unfold in the house of Batiatus. Now that season 2 is out in the open with so many different locatnions it's obviously not the same. However, season 2 has got better and better with each episode. Last Fridays.... I think episode 5... was the best episode yet! I was yelling OMG! and my girlfriend was screaming!!! really she was. When Ganacus comes back and enters the arena only to fight against....????? I was shocked! But there was so many other jaw dropping moments in this episode the 59 minutes(?) just flew by. I was mentally drained.... how often can you say that after watching a show?! It was like seeing Star Wars in 1977.... you left the theatre thinking 'wow... did I just see what I think I did....no way!' and then you'd talk to everybody you knew about it for weeks and weeks.... well my work colleagues will be getting an ear full tomorrow. This last episode was that good!
This show continues to amaze me. Half way through the season and the characters are all in place, the plots are thickening and you know the twists are coming too. I'm not a big fan of the new Navia either...the other girl was excellent.... but all in all...this second season delivers and delivers BIG. I highly recommend watching it.
on February 11, 2012
Blood and Sand was season 1
Gods of the Arena was the 6 episode prequel to Blood and Sand
Vengeance is season 2.
They decided to make Gods of the Arena to give Andy time for his cancer treatments. In all honesty, Vengeance just doesn't feel the same. I can see why they had to get Liam, since Andy died, but they replaced Lesley-Ann Brandt (Naevia) and it just isn't the same.
Trying to give Liam a chance so we'll see... not liking the new Naevia. But it's only up to the 3rd episode right now so I'm hopeful....
The most obvious complaint one could broach about this third season of SPARTACUS (subtitled VENGEANCE) is the portrayal of the titular character by Liam McIntyre. Most fans are still not yet removed far enough from the terribly tragic passing of Andy Whitfield, who played the character with perfection. Most haters of this season say that McIntyre is just not on the same level as Whitfield. Is there truth to that? I think that there is, but it's less about McIntyre's actual abilities as an actor, which are considerable, and more about how much we miss Andy. Liam had some huge shoes to fill, and he knew going in that he was going to get a lot of flak from fans of the show.
Now, I'm not the biggest fan of this series there ever was, but I will admit to my addiction to it. I find this season similarly entertaining and similarly predictible to the first two "seasons" of this show, but I was surprised to find that once Liam had been in a few episodes, I felt that it easily could have been him all along, which is certainly NO disrespect to Andy. I will also admit that McIntyre is a little wooden and not as emotional as Whitfield's Spartacus, but that is because this season holds less for Spartacus from an emotional standpoint than BLOOD AND SAND did. Part of Spartacus is already dead in this season, not only through the way that his relationship with Mira is portrayed, but also through his disregard of his own life as he seeks to strike at Glaber in any way he can. The role, and not McIntyre, is wooden. This is what's demanded of him; a role as steel-and-battle-forged leader to the fugitivus he now commands that look to him for leadership and counsel. Solemnity is required of the role now. That, and the uncanny ability to cleave head from Roman neck with a single blow.
What is also a common complaint is that this show, while being extremely entertaining, rarely gives us anything that is truly surprising. We have a set amount of characters that we know nothing is going to happen to, and everyone else is pretty much the equivalent to a STAR TREK "red shirt". If we get to know them at all, it's for about five minutes. This is true. The show is very formulaic, but when it does break out the surprises, they're pretty mouth-gaping.
Another common complaint is that this is essentially a mashup of Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR, Zack Snyder's 300, and HBO's brilliant ROME... with a heaping helping of late-night Cinemax for good measure. If you're coming to this show for truly original entertainment, you've looked at the wrong place. There is much politicking in this show, but not as clever or as strongly written as ROME. There is also a feeling that this show acquired its entire visual aesthetic from 300 with a lot or fast-slow-fast fights, dark-light-dark color palette and lots of slo-mo explosions of blood. This is true as well and I invite debate on that point (but only civil debate, please). And as far as GLADIATOR goes... well, that's just from a plot standpoint and somewhat rehashed plot is hardly worth criticism.
Another common complaint was that of a new Naevia, played not by Leslie-Ann Brandt, but Cynthia Addai-Robinson. This is a much different Naevia than was portrayed before, and with good reason. But the skill is there and she makes a fine addition to the cast.
Another common complaint is the dialogue which seems unnatural and overly polished with poetic license. To that I say... close mouth. This is a highly stylized show and it greatly benefits from having equally stylized dialogue.
I don't think that any of the great creative minds that created this series, from Steven S. DeKnight (formerly of the Whedon posse and SMALLVILLE) to Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, were ever looking to reinvent the wheel here. They took a risk on a somewhat serious show that week after week offered extremely handsome men, extremely beautiful women, and orgiastic showerings of bloody deaths and wild sex. I do think that they do a good deal of justice to the Rome that was, but I'd be more apt to ask a historian about the show's accuracy.
Simply put, this is a very entertaining, and occasionally very smart, show with more than enough to keep even the most jaded fan coming back for more.
on September 12, 2012
Powerful and unforgettable -- these are the two words that immediately come to mind when trying to describe "Spartacus: Vengeance." The first one tells you about how hard it hits you while watching it and the second one is the feeling that you have after watching it. Hell, for that matter, I shall also add a third word: addictive - you just can't get enough. And if you thought that the first two installments of the series, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," could not be surpassed, think again. The writers keep it excitingly fresh and honest.
After two seasons, for a lack of a better word ("Spartacus Vengeance" is labeled as the second season), we now find Spartacus and his fellow slaves free, after terminating Batiatus' empire. If you recall, Batiatus (John Hannah) was the mighty owner of the best gladiators in the town of Capua. However, even though the gladiators are free, they are still slaves and the Romans will do anything to get them back. This time, the Roman-in- charge and the new owner of the Batiatus house is Glaber (Craig Parker, who does a great job). Glaber, as we know, is married to Ilithyia (Viva Bianca), who barely escaped the wrath of Spartacus and his followers when they ended Batiatus' regime. In addition, it is also known that Spartacus, who was originally played by Andy Whitfield, who died at the height of his career due to cancer, was replaced by Liam McIntyre. He commands an impressive group of gladiators and slaves - both male and females --, including Crixus (Manu Bennett), Doctore (Peter Mensah), Mira (Katrina Law), Agron (Daniel Feuerriegel), and others. Spartacus keeps freeing and recruiting slaves throughout the region, always telling his people that "an empty hand can yet become a fist" and "even the mighty republic bleeds when stricken." Of course, along the way we will find new faces and the return of older ones who we thought were gone for good. There are also mutinies within Spartacus' troops, and all is done well. My favorite episode is "Libertus," number five of the season, which by itself could have been a movie. I couldn't believe my eyes while watching it and I was at the edge of my seat. What suspense! What a show! The final and tenth episode, "Wrath of the Gods," is also as good as it gets, and closes the season in a satisfying and majestic manner.
"Spartacus Vengeance" has elements of "Apocalypse Now," Hitchcock, James Bond, "The Godfather," "Caligula" (Tinto Brass' version), and more; you can see the influences on the filmmakers. The violence gets more gruesome (if that is possible) and the sex is more graphic, without being x-rated (or NR-rated?), and I have to confess that, even though I am not a fan of today's brand of violence (especially the new wave of horror movies), this series is my guilty pleasure. Ah, of course there is also the nudity - male and female - which is a delight to any sexual preference. And then there is the matter of Liam McIntyre replacing Andy Whitfield. Personally, I didn't have a problem with it, as the action and plot keeps you busy. However, that said, I was surprised by Viva Bianca's incredible range of acting on this particular season. I was also impressed by Katrina Law, who was a perfect partner for Spartacus. Both of them, I believe, stole the show from the others, including the males. Now, of course, we have to wait for what is supposed to be the final season of this spectacular series: "War of the Damned." Knowing Spartacus' end in real life, according to history and in Stanley Kubrick's film, is kind of hard to just think about it, and I hope that the filmmakers have the wisdom on how to give the series a great closure. A hint of that end is given in one of the episodes. The DVD edition includes the season's ten episodes, Starz studios used for Spartacus, a making-of feature, bloopers, a teaser for "Spartacus: War of the Damned," and much more. (USA, 2012, color, 556 min plus additional materials).
Reviewed on September 11, 2012 by Eric Gonzales for Anchor Bay / Starz Originals.
on December 13, 2012
I watched the 10-episode season of Spartacus: Vengeance. What an amazing story. I won't give too many spoilers, but in many ways, this is the best season of Spartacus yet.
If you're new to the series, you can start with Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. That's the prequel they filmed when series star Andy Whitfield got sick.
Andy had filmed the original series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which got everything off to an impressive start. Co-stars John Hannah and Lucy Lawless were brilliant, the entire cast was top-notch, and the story-line was epic. Blood and Sand ends in a rebellion that claims the lives of Hannah's and Lawless' characters, and the story was set to boil over into the next season.
Then Whitfield came down with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He took time off to fight his disease. In a stroke of genius, the show's creators decided to show what happened at the gladiator school BEFORE Spartacus arrived. We were introduced to MORE amazing actors and characters, and Hannah and Lawless got to explore depths of their treacherous yet devoted characters that are some of the best roles written for anybody - ever. Gods of the Arena is really the story of Hannah and Lawless' characters, and their incredible scheming.
Sadly, Whitfield lost his battle with lymphoma. So when it came time to cast the next season, Spartacus: Vengeance, the show's producers picked Liam McIntyre, who looks a lot like Andy. Stunt-casting like that usually fails, and Liam plays a more warm, less cold-blooded Spartacus. This will rub some viewers as wrong, but if you accept that personal growth is a big part of the story, it actually works.
Spartacus: Vengeance takes place after the events of Spartacus: Blood and Sand so is called "season 2" in a move that will confuse many viewers. The producers sweetened the plot by bringing back Lucy Lawless' character, Lucretia. Though she seemed dead at the end of "Blood and Sand," they found a way to bring her back, totally mad after the events that saw her house, marriage and life ruined.
Spartacus: Vengeance tells the story of the early stage of the Spartacan rebellion, or Third Servile War. And there is enough intrigue, back-stabbing, and plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you liked Lucretica's scheming, just wait till you see what Ilithyia, played by Viva Bianca, gets up to. The ending is both horrific and satisfying, and makes this the role of Lucy Lawless' career. Xena, Shmeena!
Vengeance is a season in which most characters ask themselves: "What's next?" For Spartacus, it's "What's next after I pull off a slave rebellion?" His answer is a quest to find love with Mira (maybe) and definitely vengeance on Glaber, the Roman senator who first hired him as a mercenary then sold Spartacus and his wife into slavery.
for loyal Crixus, what's next is to find redemption saving Naevia -- their illicit love ended with her being sent off to the mines. Crixus is obsessed with freeing her.
For Doctore/Oenomaus, what's next is how to find honor after he's lost it all. We learn Oenomaus' backstory. You thought maybe you learned his history in the prequel, Gods of the Arena. There's a lot more to the man.
For Gannicus, the freed gladiator, what's next is finding something to live for. His character has been adrift since Gods of the Arena. Can Spartacus inspire Gannicus with new purpose?
You probably know that Spartacus is based on a real person, though very little is known about him. Gannicus, Crixus and Oenomaus were all real gladiator/rebels as well. One change is that in real life, Oenomaus was a Gaul; they make him a Nubian for the series so they could use Peter Mensah, a martial arts master who is also a masterful actor.
And I have to mention actor Nick Tarabay, who plays scheming gladiator and all-around scumbag Ashur. He's not a historical figure, but seems modeled after the character Aaron from Titus Andronicus; the character who boasted:
"I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more"
Speaking of Shakespeare, the language of TV's Spartacus will seem Shakepearean at times. To get that effect, the writers translated Roman texts -- words and phrases -- literally and incorporated them into the scripts. The language really helps transport you to another time.
If you liked Rome, if you liked the Sopranos, consider TV's Spartacus. The show is not for kids or even teens, or anyone with a weak stomach. But it is awesome.
on September 17, 2012
I absolutely LOVED the first season of Spartacus, LOVED IT! My wife and I smoked through the first season box set like a wood chipper on crack! The second season will not disappoint the fans either. It's a shame the lead actor (Spartacus) passed due to cancer and couldn't shoot season two. He will be missed, he nailed the role perfectly. That being said his replacement made the transition seem near seamless. It certainly could have been a lot worse.
I didn't feel as invested in season two as season one, but that is nit picking. I still tore through the box set in two days and would have been happy with ten more episodes.
Worth every penny.
on May 22, 2012
I miss Andy as Spartacus, but Liam does a great job and brings his own to the part. The actress for Naevia is different but needs time to bring her own to the role. The other acters/actresses were great as always. They do not disappoint. The writers did a fine job. They make it an even greater production as seasons progress. I can't wait to season 3. I can't wait to the Bluray release which provides extended episodes.
on March 28, 2012
I've been a fan of Spartacus since the first episode of the show. Once you are introduced to the characters in the Ludus you get to see just how deep and fleshed out each character is. Spartacus goes from a hot headed Thracian, to obedient champion of Capua, to the leader of a renegade group of warriors fierce enough to go against the roman empire.
Andy Whitfield's illness and eventual death put the show on hiatus. While they were waiting for his recovery they already had Liam McIntyre picked out with Andy's approval to continue on with the show if he was unable. They also released a prequel to the first season called Gods of the Arena which introduced us to even more characters and further developed the history of the Ludus we see so much of in the first season. The first seasons were fantastic and this continues the trend.
Andy left some Titan sized shoes to fill but Liam has stepped up so far and delivered a great performance. So much has changed since the fall of the house of Batiatus and sworn enemies are now true brothers, and visa versa. Spartacus is now fighting for more than just his own life as he becomes a paragon for the enslaved populace of Rome.
He vows to free all slaves, he vows to fight against Praetor Claudius Glaber, and he vows to have his vengeance.