bill bodkin enjoys a bloody good time…
Spartacus has been a troubling series since it first aired in 2010. Troubling in a sense that it was never really able to balance its drama with its action — both were so amped up and in your face, that the series was just too much, you never were never able to digest anything. It would go from hyper-stylized violence to overly convoluted plot back to hyper-stylized violence without taking a beat. You literally felt exhausted watching the series.
Luckily, in the series’ final season, War of the Damned, they’ve learned to take a breath. Storylines are allowed to breath; battle scenes have a cooling down period. This narrative breath makes the series a whole lot more enjoyable and much easier to follow and much more enticing to watch the following week.
It also makes it easy for newbies to the series to easily pick up what’s going on. Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) is leading an army of freed and escaped slaves in a bloody assault against The Roman Empire. Before, it felt like you needed a guidebook to keep every character and their motivates straight. In War of the Damned it’s very Point A to Point B and for a series that’s all about war, that’s exactly what you need.
One of the strengths of this series is the new Spartacus, Liam McIntyre. McIntyre isn’t just a hulking, half-naked action star, who looks good wielding a sword. No, he can act too. He portrays Spartacus as a humane and intelligent leader that has an absolute homicidal and animalistic side to him. It’s a dynamic that makes the action sequences that much better and the dramatic scenes that much more convincing.
Now, one criticism you can hurl at this show is it’s excesses — and it’s justifiable sometimes. The unnecessary excesses come in the sex scenes where gratuitous and unmotivated foursomes occur and then we jump to two naked men in full on snog mode then two generals being bathed by completed naked women. I get that in the context of the story (all of this happens after a massive battle), it might be historically accurate (or at least somewhat accurate), but the way they’re done, in such a softcore, Skinemax way kinda cheapens Spartacus.
Now, where the excesses actually work is in the battle sequences. As a viewer you have to quickly get over the fact Spartacus models their action sequences after 300. It’s obvious and the quicker you get over it, the more you can enjoy the creativity with which these scenes are shot. While they employ a 300-style, they are choreographed really, really well. Some of the blood spatters might get a bit repetitive, but the close-up work and the epic scenes are fantastic. It stands out from anything on TV right now.
Spartacus: War of the Damned is a solid action series. It’s one of those shows you can get into if you’re looking to scratch that action itch you may have.