“Gladiator” ends on a pretty grim note, but also one befitting such a bloody tale of violence and unchecked machismo. The honorable Maximus, his family having been murdered after he refused to swear fealty to Joaquin Phoenix’s newly-crowned Roman emperor Commodus (who killed his own father, Richard Harris’ Marcus Aurelius, upon learning he had appointed Maximus as his successor to the throne), is enslaved and works his way up the rung in the gladiatorial arena, only for he and Commodus to slay one another during a one-on-one duel. Indeed, few are left standing once the dust clears, save for Aurelius’ daughter and Maximus’s old flame, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), and her young son Lucius.
According to Scott, the hardest part of “Gladiator 2” was “getting the footprint right with the writer.” Eventually, though, he realized that bringing back Maximus — even by, admittedly, some imaginatively out-there means, had he gone with Cave’s screenplay — was just less interesting to him than focusing on those who were still alive at the end of the first film:
“There was a very obvious way to go, which was who’s the survivor? Well, the survivor could be Connie, Marcus’ daughter, but what’s even more interesting, and therefore a double whammy, there’s the son. Whatever happened to him? It became about that […] It’s 20 years on. That was harder than casting Russell as Maximus, that was more obvious.”