On the face of it, you might think Elizabeth: The Golden Age would not have to deal with the same sorts of problems that plague other sequels. While the creators of fictitious franchises have to walk a fine line between recycling their earlier movies and offering something new, the Elizabeth movies are supposed to be based on history, and you might think that each film, by focusing on a different part of the reign of the original Queen Elizabeth, would be somewhat unique. But alas, that is not how it turns out. Yes, The Golden Age has a sea battle and one or two other new bits, thanks to its presumably bigger budget. But for the most part, it plays like a pale retread of the film that earned Cate Blanchett her first Oscar nomination nine years ago.
People may mock the pieties of ancient biblical epics, but when I was a lad, I watched them for the gore. Ben-Hur was a particular favorite: slaves were crushed under the collapsing hulls of their ships, Charlton Heston ran around the deck throwing spears through pirates and shoving torches in their faces, and of course there was the carnage of that famous chariot race, in which, among other things, Stephen Boyd was dragged by his own horses and trampled by the thoroughbreds behind him.
I thought of that film while watching Gladiator, the first true sword-and-sandals epic since the 1960s. Set in the second century, it follows a similar storyline, and it’s full of beheadings, stabbings, and flaming arrows; one person is even split in half by the spoke on a passing chariot wheel. Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a victorious Roman general who is betrayed by the jealous new emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and enslaved, his family slaughtered. With nothing to live for but revenge, Maximus distinguishes himself in the arena and ultimately works his way to the big leagues in Rome, where he itches for a chance to stand before Commodus again and plunge something sharp into the emperor’s belly.