Created by Steven S. DeKnight
Starring Liam McIntyre, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare, and Lucy Lawless
Spartacus is back with a vengeance, and he’s bringing all the action, gore, sex and more from the rest of the series. But does it still hold up?
After a brief pause, Spartacus returns after his liberation of himself and his fellow slaves of the Batiatus ludus. Now they wage war against their Roman oppressors, particularly those responsible for Spartacus’ imprisonment and the death of his wife.
Season two accomplishes the great task of cranking up the action and gore. No longer is the principle combat kept in the arena. The fight choreographers play around with more locales, characters, and situations than ever before, and it looks like they have fun. The simpler set up of the arena gladiatorial combat makes way for group melee against arena-trained freedom fighters versus an increasing number of Roman soldiers. A lot more people are trying to kill each other, on screen at the same time, and it’s a blast (especially with the catapults).
While still on the mature side, the sexual side of the series is toned down a bit, but only a bit, which works with the even tenser atmosphere of this season. Some scenes are, of course, very notable exceptions to this observation.
While named after the character Spartacus, the entire series focuses on a wide cast of characters, and this season is no different. Fellow gladiator Crixus aides Spartacus while searching for his lost love. Former doctore Oenomaus tries to find new meaning in his life, as does his friend and Gods of the Arena star Gannicus. Challenging them are the Roman forces, lead by Spartacus’ betrayer Glaber. In Glaber’s employ returns the conniving slave Ashur and the disturbed survivor of Spartacus’ revolt at the end of season one – Lucretia Batiatus. With them and more, the series does a surprisingly good job making sure everyone feels important to the story.
All the actors do a fantastic job adding layers to their characters. Lucy Lawless is especially superb as a broken Lucretia, who is understandably mentally disturbed after last season’s finale and the course of this season. New Spartacus actor Liam McIntyre does a great job making the role his own with the character’s new found sense of conviction, while still building on the character’s intense pain and unbridled rage that original actor Andy Whitfield well portrayed before his unfortunate passing between seasons.
The second season actually improves upon the first season’s weakness of too many unsympathetic characters, especially Spartacus. For much of the first season, Spartacus is unsympathetic to his comrades and complacent to his situation. This season, his eyes are open to the bigger problem of Roman societal entitlement to slavery, and he means to put an end to it with the end of his sword. While this rebel faction still deals with divisive internal strife, their dedication to a greater goal makes them more captivating to watch.
This season’s weakness has to be its antagonists. While Glaber and his wife Ilithyia (Craig Parker and Viva Bianca respectively) are good and sadistic foils, they just aren’t as fun as John Hannah’s Quintus Batiatus, who you could almost root for in his social climbing. Plus, Lucy Lawless’ broken Lucretia, while a legitimate development in the character, isn’t as intriguing as her confident and sexy self from before.
Spartacus keeps melodrama and action turned on high. The visceral enjoyment of the series continues into this Vengeance season, all the way into a thrilling climax that will keep you on the edge of your seat until next season.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, just as the other releases of the series. The wide angle helps a lot with the slow-motion, side-scrolling shots, which are impressive.
The CGI can still be pretty laughable at times, from the occasionally detached limb to the repeated crowd inserts, but it all adds to the feel. The green screen is still obvious most of the time, but sometimes it’s not, and either way, you rarely care with how exciting and visually interesting the foreground is.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This three-disc set matches the first season and miniseries with its ornate, glossy, book-like packaging, where each disc is in its own page decorated with a collage of scenes.
The bonuses are all on the final disc, mostly behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews. There isn’t any episode-specific commentary, but one particular scene is separated into the bonuses for the VFX in charge of it to comment on as it plays.
Overall (Not an Average)
All the fun of the first season and miniseries is back in Spartacus: Vengeance. The visceral enjoyment from the action and these wonderfully flawed and intricate characters makes the whole series, and this season especially, one to watch.
The Series 8/10
The Video and Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10