Created by Steven S. DeKnight
Starring Liam McIntyre, Manu Bennett, Dustin Clare, and Todd Lasance
Following a blood-and-sex filled two seasons and a miniseries, the Spartacus series draws to a close with this final War of the Damned season. The scope of the battles and the weights of their outcomes have grown as we reach its end, but is it as rewarding as the journey thus far?
Picking up some time after the end of the second season’s climatic battle at Vesuvius, Spartacus and his rag tag bunch of rebellious slaves have grown into an army that strikes fear in the heart of Rome. As Spartacus’ numbers swell and his cause of freedom emboldens, Rome empowers the brilliant and resourceful Marcus Crassus to crush the slave rebellion. Aiding Crassus is a name familiar to literature and history, Julius Ceasar.
Can Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus, and our other favorite gladiators survive against a general as tactically savvy as Spartacus himself and one of history’s most famous Roman leaders?
All of the gory and bloody fighting the show is famous for is back in a big way. The scope of the conflict has continued to grow this season, with large battles of thousands of warriors eclipsing the scale of gladiatorial arenas the show started with. Despite this, the actual shooting of the combat keeps the focus concentrated on the named characters we’re familiar with as they tear through numerous grunts. You’ll find yourself cheering as the undefeated Gaul Crixus lunges into an onslaught of Roman soldiers or as Spartacus himself charges forth covered in blood and rage.
The OTHER thing this franchise is known for – the blatant nudity and sexual content – is likewise in full force. For people fighting a constantly on-the-move war, everyone finds a surprising amount of time for recreational activities. Sure, all the sex is for shock value, but it generally works for the show. Just keep in mind that this isn’t for kiddies.
The cast goes all the way in this season. Liam McIntyre is a commanding presence as Spartacus. His grim and serious demeanor – lightened only occasionally with a charismatic half smile – grabs your attention and drags you along into hopeless battles against overwhelming foes. Likewise Manu Bennett and Dustin Clare portray very captivating characters as the gruff and serious Crixus and the charming and easy-going Gannicus respectively. The female cast is not to be outdone, from Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s meek-handmaiden-turned-vicious-warrior Naevia to Anna Hutchison’s Roman captive Laeta.
The villains also step up this season, with Simon Merrells’ Marcus Crassus serving as a capable foil to Spartacus in both tactical prowess and ruthlessness. Unfortunately Crassus’ son Tiberious, played by Christian Antidormi , comes off very two-dimensionally despicable. More pleasing is the addition of historically famed Julius Ceasar, played by a very Brad-Pitt-lookalike Todd Lasance. Ceasar matches the gladiators in combat ability. Despite being on the opposite side and despising our gladiator heroes, he shows kindness to other downtrodden characters and perfectly fitting in with the shades of gray throughout the morality of the series.
This is indeed the final season of the franchise. Despite the show’s tendency to buck history, certain characters have a date with destiny they must meet by the final ending credits. Even if you already know who lives and dies through Spartacus’ war, this show is all about the journey, the combat, and the love lives these characters have along the way. This final season is as enjoyable as ever, a well-worth send off for Spartacus back to the history books.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. The wide angle helps a lot with the slow-motion, side-scrolling shots, which are continue to impress. The bullet time is too much in a few scenes though, but the panning sideways battle shots consistently impress.
I noticed one instance of digital artifacting pixelating on screen for a brief second, but the rest of the footage looked clean.
The CGI and green screen will stick out like a sore thumb at times, especially with how much of this series is shot against a green screen to fake the outdoor Italian landscape. However, it matches the outlandishness of the show that already exceeds that in the extreme combat, over-the-top practical effects, and blatant sex scenes.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The three-disc set matches the previous seasons with its ornate, glossy, book-like packaging, with each disc is in its own page decorated with a collage of scenes.
Each episode features a commentary track, even two tracks at times, with the production staff and cast of the show. The special features are on the final disc, six in total showing behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews, as well as series memorandums with the cast recalling high points of the production. These special features aren’t as fulfilling as hoped. Most interesting was the “Adorning the Damned” which showed the creation of the costuming and leather work, but I wanted more out of the “The Price of Being a Gladiator” feature that only barely showed the cast’s work-out routine.
Overall (Not an Average)
Spartacus: War of the Damned wraps up a series that has been a hell of a blast. It’s surprisingly deeper, dramatic, and captivating than its surface selling features of sex and gore suggest, while still delivering those too in great quantities. This season, despite a couple of weak characters, stays strong and serves as a great cap stone.