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Spartacus: Vengeance

1/23/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Starz returns to the sandals-andswords
genre for the third time with Spartacus:
Vengeance
, with a new lead man and his gladiator
troupe liberated from the luddus that bound them.

Australian actor Liam McIntyre
is now manning the title role, following
the death of Andy Whitfield,
who portrayed the title character
in Spartacus: Blood and Sand,
which bowed in January 2010,
from Non-Hodgkins’ Lymphoma in
September. McIntyre’s Spartacus
is torn between heading the band
of rebels against Rome and exacting
revenge against Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker),
the commander who sold he and his wife Sura into
slavery, which ultimately cost her life.

Spartacus displays early leadership qualities by
temporarily stopping one of his charges from going
blood-lust berserk, imploring the gladiator to take
stock and take anything valuable from the soldiers
that fell during their ambush. He also makes sure
that a bounty of food is shared properly among the
roving band of slaves.

After his woman, Mira (Katina Law), and Crixus
(Manu Bennett), the man he replaced as the top
gladiator at the House of Batiatus, rebuke him for
a risky daytime attack against his nemesis Glaber,
Spartacus seemingly embraces his leadership
role. He recognizes the need for an alliance with
the Gaul gladiators, indulging their leader Crixus’
quest to find his lady Naevia (now played by Cynthia
Addai-Robinson), who is being passed around from
new master to new master. As the band pursues
Naevia, Spartacus entreats the newly freed slaves
to join their battle against Rome, quickly moving
them to equal status with his brotherhood.

Other old friends and foes — Oenomaus (Peter
Mensah), the former trainer known as Doctore,
Ilithyia (Viva Bianca), Glaber’s spoiled wife, and
Ashur (Nick Tarabay) — return to new circumstances.
Lucy Lawless’ character Lucretia also is
back, after somehow surviving the orgy/massacre
alongside Ilythia at the House of Batiatus that
claimed the lives of her husband (John Hannah) and
other Roman dignitaries and unchained Spartacus
and crew. Their back stories, via flashbacks, are
intermingled with the new narrative.

Blood, drawn via slices or crushing blows, again
comes spurting in slow, CG-lingering glory. Viewers
must endure a disembowelment, but are spared
the full Monty of a castration by sword. Still, the
overuse of red — the screen on occasion is covered
in splatter before dissolving to the next scene
— not only desensitizes, but reduces the violence
to a video game.

As with its franchise forbears, Vengeance also
reminds of Romans’ taste for the flesh, with male
and female full frontal nudity, plus snippets of varied
homosexual and heterosexual acts.

Word to the wise: Those who like to engage
would do well to keep their togas and tunics nearby,
Spartacus’ band of merry men prefer to attack villas
and whore houses before the sun rises. Then,
there’s the language. While a euphemism for the
male appendage is aurally unsheathed throughout
the first two episodes, much of the dialogue is
imagined old school, stilted and poetic.

Spartacus: Vengeance, with its juxtaposition of
florid speech and more primal human callings, is a
guilty pleasure in its own right.

September