Spartacus: Blood and Sand seemingly had everything going for it; a great cast, a great look and a star (Andy Whitfield) seemingly about to burst onto the big time. It also had the benefit of developing on Starz, a more genre oriented network with the standards of HBO in terms of content. Unfortunately one thing prevented the show from developing quickly into a starring vehicle for Andy Whitfield. In a normal world he would’ve followed the John Travolta path from small screen fame into the world of cinema, as his presence and charisma were as undeniable as his talent.
He just happened to die before all this could happen.
Starz tried to wait out Whitfield’s battle with cancer, making a prequel bridge series in Gods of the Arena, but Whitfield succumbed and Starz was left in a quandary. Do they leave the three act historical fiction story about the man they called Spartacus at one season or do they replace Whitfield and soldier on? They opted for the latter with Liam McIntyre stepping into the role of Spartacus.
He’s not bad, not by any measure, but with Whitfield’s strong performance he’s left to follow in his footsteps and ape his performance. McIntyre winds up doing a great impression of Whitfield for the most part but there’s something missing that he doesn’t have that Whitfield did. The series doesn’t miss a beat with a new lead actor, of course, but McIntyre doesn’t torpedo the show. After the first couple of scenes in the second season he fits in like he had been in the show since the beginning.
The second season of Spartacus entitled “Vengeance” has moved forward the myth-making series. Whereas the first season focused on Spartacus the slave turned gladiator, turned rebel to the Roman Empire, Spartacus: Vengeance is about Spartacus and his slave army as they build into the rebellion that would become legend. This is the middle part of that story, when he’s a slave no longer but not quite the legendary general that would defeat the Romans in battle on occasion. He’s becoming that man but not quite there; this is Spartacus in progress. And as such we see him learn the lessons that would eventually turn him into the man he would become.
Told in a historical fiction narrative, as the events occur roughly in order historically but in such a manner as to make it more dramatic, Spartacus follows in the same sort of vein that Game of Thrones does in that it’s a sword and sandals melodrama with oodles of sex and violence. It doesn’t skimp on the degeneracy, blood guts and viscera either.
With the third and final season War of the Damned focusing on Spartacus the general, this is Spartacus in transition. And it’s a beautiful thing.
There’s a Teaser for the next season, of course, and a handful of features. There are two features on the show’s production and overall story, another with McIntyre on set, VFX work done on episode 205 (where the arena is destroyed) and a behind the scenes feature. There’s a historical perspective on Spartacus, bloopers and a feature on famous last words.
If you like the attitude of Game of Thrones but want it in swords and sandals instead, Vengeance and Blood and Sand ought to be in your DVD queue.
Starz presents Spartacus: Vengeance . Created by Steve S. DeKnight. Starring Liam McIntyre, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Erin Cummings. Running time: 572 minutes. Not Rated. Released: September 11, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.